Happy Chinese New Year!

Gong Xi Fa Cai! Tomorrow marks Chinese New Year, bringing in the Year of the Rooster. While everyone knows this is an important holiday, do you know why it falls when it does or how people celebrate?
A traditional Chinese Dragon in a Chinese New Year Parade. Photo: Shutterstock
A traditional Chinese Dragon in a Chinese New Year Parade. Photo: Shutterstock

A traditional Chinese Dragon in a Chinese New Year Parade. Photo: Shutterstock


The Chinese celebrate their new year according to the lunar calendar, the actual date in the Gregorian calendar falling in January or February. The lunar months, of course, don’t coincide with those of the Western calendar, hence festivals falling on different dates each year.

In China, the New Year celebration is more popularly known as chun jie, or Spring Festival. It is by far the biggest and most important of Chinese festivals marking the beginning of a new year coupled to one of twelve animal signs. The Chinese zodiac spectrum comprises the rat, bull, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig, and was created during the Han dynasty (206 BC–AD 220). It divides people into the 12 categories according to the year they are born, and also tells their fortune and future by combining philosophy and numbers. Fortune-tellers make predictions by reading faces and palms, or doing complicated calculations based on a person’s name or the time and date of birth. 

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Participating in Chinese New Year festivities in Guangzhou. Photo: ShutterstockParticipating in Chinese New Year festivities in Guangzhou. Photo: Shutterstock


How do people celebrate Chinese New Year?

Celebrations, which begin on the eve of the new year with a family reunion dinner, typically last four days. Forget travelling during this time in China as chunyun – the Spring Festival travel rush – sees hundreds of millions of students and workers clog up transport networks in an attempt to reunite with their families.

Tradition holds that the cai shen (fortune god) leaves for the heavens on new year’s eve to give a report of a family’s actions during the past year. He returns on the fifth day of the new year to bestow fortune, so many stores and businesses will reopen on the fifth day. Hong bao (red packets, known as lai see in Cantonese) filled with money are usually given to the young and old as people visit their relatives and friends to usher in the new.

Nowadays, the festive parades, dragon dances and fireworks are more common in the countryside and in Chinatowns around the world than in large cities in China. In Beijing, people celebrate by attending miao hui (temple gatherings), which are really social gatherings in a large park.



Participants perform the dragon and lion dance during Chinese Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) in Beijing. Photo: ShutterstockParticipants perform the dragon and lion dance during Chinese Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) in Beijing. Photo: Shutterstock


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