Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is the first day of the New Year in the Chinese calendar, which differs from the Gregorian calendar. It is also known as the Spring Festival or the Lunar New Year. Every year is represented by a zodiac animal sign.

Picture of a typical long dragon float for the Chinese New Year
©bigstockphoto.com/ Diane Robertson

What Do People Do?

Chinese New Year is the most important and longest of all Chinese festivals, celebrated in Chinese communities worldwide. Chinese New Year activities include:

  • Making offerings to household deities.
  • Wearing new clothes, particularly in red.
  • Hosting a large banquet for family and friends.
  • Taking part in lion and dragon dances, as well as festive parades featuring acrobatic demonstrations, beating gongs, and clashing cymbals.

Many children receive “lucky money” in red envelopes, and household doors are open to let good luck enter. Chinese New Year may also include a lantern festival, where people hang decorated lanterns in temples and carry lanterns to an evening parade.

What's Open or Closed?

Chinese New Year is a public holiday in China, which lasts for a few days. It is also a public holiday in countries such as Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, North Korea, Singapore, South Korea, and Vietnam.

It is not a public holiday in countries such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, or the United States. However, some businesses may close early, and some streets may be closed for a short while to allow for festival parades to take place.

About Chinese New Year

This festival is believed go as far back as prehistory. It marks the start of the new lunar cycle and is called the Spring Festival (in the northern hemisphere) as it falls between the December solstice and the March equinox. China follows the Gregorian calendar for daily business but the dates of the Chinese New Year and other important festivals are determined by the Chinese calendar.

Each year in the Chinese calendar is assigned to an animal. According to one belief, Buddha promised gifts to all animals that would pay him homage. Only 12 animals came to honor Buddha so, to favor these 12 animals, each one was given one of the 12 years of the Chinese zodiac. People are said to inherit distinctive characteristics from the animal of their birth year. The signs repeat every 12 years.

The Chinese calendar is based on astronomical observations of the Sun's longitude and the Moon's phases. It is believed to have been introduced by Emperor Huangdi (or Huang Ti) at some stage around 2600 to 3000 BCE. According to legend, the emperor invented the calendar in 2637 BCE. This calendar predates the Gregorian calendar, which was introduced in 1582. The Chinese lunar calendar is used to determine festivals. Since the length of the Chinese calendar year differs from the length of a year in the Gregorian calendar, the Gregorian dates of these festivals vary each year. Various Chinese communities around the world also use this calendar.

Symbols

Chinese New Year has various symbols and traditions. For example, flowers are an important part of New Year decorations, among them the plum blossom (associated with courage and hope) and the water narcissus (associated with good luck and fortune). Writings that refer to good luck are often seen in homes and business environments. They are usually written with a brush on a diamond-shaped piece of red paper. Tangerines and oranges are also displayed in many homes and stores as a sign of luck and wealth.

Envelopes with money (Hong Bao, Ang Pao, or Lai See) often come in the color red, which symbolizes happiness, good luck, success, and good fortune. The color red is also used on these envelopes to ward off evil spirits. These envelopes are mainly given as presents to children.

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