Here is a guide to understanding Chinese New Year how to best celebrate it.
When is Chinese New Year
The Chinese Calendar is often referred to as the Lunar Calendar, however it is not really a true lunar calendar but a lunisolar calendar in that it is adjusted every few years to realign the year with the solar year. This means that the date changes every year, though it will fall sometime between late January and February.
A Chinese Calendar showing both Chinese and Western Dates (Attribution: Wikicommons -OttawaAC)
The celebration goes on for several days with activities starting on Chinese New Year's eve. The most important day is New Year's day itself which most Chinese people will take off. However there are activities and observances for the first 10 days of the new year, with additional activities on subsequent days, with the 15th being the Lantern Festival.
The dates of the upcoming Chinese New Years are
2015: February 19 (Goat) 2016: February 8 (Monkey) 2017: January 18 (Rooster) 2018: February 16 (Dog)
2019: February 5 (Pig)
2020: January 25 (Rat)
Who celebrates the Chinese New Year
Well obviously Chinese people celebrate Chinese new year. This includes Chinese living abroad in many countries, especially in South East Asia. In China the festival is referred to as Spring Festival while elsewhere they usually call it Chinese New Year.
Other countries that have long traditions of following the Chinese Calendar also celebrate new year at this time. the most important being Tet in Vietnam and Seollal in Korea.
Tet celebrations in Vietnam (Attribution: Wikicommons - Pinus)
Note: Japan was long a follower of the Chinese calendar. Unlike other countries, when they adopted the Western calendar they fixed the dates of festivals associated with the Chinese calendar to the western calendar.
Chinese New Year Traditions
There are a large number of traditions associated with Chinese New Year. Here are some of the most important.
You should clean your house on New Year's Eve so that you start your new year with everything clean. On New Year's day you should wear new clothes and avoid washing your hair as this can wash away your luck.
It is common to give red pockets, which are red envelopes with money. Generally only married people or managers need to give red pockets.
Fireworks are set off on New Year's eve and later. The noise is meant to scare away evil spirits.
Lion dances are common in the South of China and because many Chinese migrants in the past were from the south, lion dances are common around the world.
In the north it is very important to eat Chinese dumplings (Jiaozi). Of course in the north they eat dumplings for every Chinese festival and holiday. The tradition is that the whole family and guests get together and make the dumplings.
The seventh day of Chinese New Year is the day traditionally everyone becomes one year older. This is a good day to eat noodles, as the long noodles symbolise long life.
The 15th day of Chinese New Year is known as lantern festival in the south. It is also considered to be Chinese Valentine's Day. This is partly because at Chinese New Year parents are trying to find partners for their unmarried adult children. This is also the time to eat Tangyuan, Chinese sweet glutinous rice balls.
Each year is associated with an animal of the Chinese Zodiac. Each animal has different characteristics which will determine some things about the year.
Chinese Zodiac (Attribution: Wikicommons - Felix Andrews)
Your zodiac animal is determined by your birth year. The simple version is that if the current year is the same as your zodiac year, then this will be your lucky year. However, because you are most powerful when it is your year, evil spirits will bring you bad luck. You can avoid this by wearing red, even if it is just red underwear. In China you will see whole sections of department stores devoted to selling red underwear.
However the real deal with the zodiac is about auspicious days. These are based on the date of your birth. So there will be certain days that are best for you to be married, start a business or travel.
Travelling to China
Being China's most important festival, many people consider travelling to China during that time. However, like most Chinese festivals, being at home with the family is the most important aspect, so it is actually fairly boring time of the year and not the best time to travel.
Some of the problems include the fact that the entire nation is returning home, so often find train or plane tickets is impossible at that time of year. The train and bus stations are crowded to crushing point. 10 years ago travelling just after Chinese New Year was very cheap, but now many people take their families for a holiday putting up hotel and plane ticket prices.
You also have the problem that because many people have returned home quite a lot of restaurants and venues are closed during that time. Often shows that tourist want to see are not in operation at that time.
Having said that, there are some great delights for the Chinese New Year. The big cities tend to be less crowded and you can often find great discounts on hotel prices. If you travel about a week before or on New Year's day itself, plane ticket prices are heavily discounted as few people are travelling.
There are some events on. The best is of course is being able to play with fireworks in many places, though some cities have banned them. Lion dancers are a purely Guangdong province tradition, but Nanjing and Hangzhou have many lanterns and there are temple fairs in Beijing.
Celebrations outside of China
There are 3 main activities for Chinese New Year around the world. Normally there are festivities celebrating Chinese and Asian culture at your local Chinatown or Chinese community. Some cities, such as New York and Paris will have a Chinese New Year parade. You can also go to a Chinese temple to celebrate.