Updated: Jan 14
Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year or Spring Festival 春节, is China's most important festival. It is also the most important celebration for families and a week of an official public holiday.
Chinese New Year 2020 falls on Saturday, January 25, 2020, beginning a year of the Rat. China's public holiday will be January 24–30, 2020.
When Is Chinese New Year?
Chinese New Year falls on Saturday, January 25 in 2020, and Friday, February 12 in 2021.
The date of the Chinese New Year is determined by the lunar calendar: the holiday falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice on December 21. Thus, each time the New Year in China falls on different dates of the usual Gregorian calendar, between January 21 and February 20.
The important dates during the period of Chinese New Year 2020:
Why is it called the Spring Festival?
Though being in winter for most of China, the Chinese New Year is popularly known as the Spring Festival 春节 in China. Because it starts from the Beginning of Spring (the first of the twenty-four terms in coordination with the changes of Nature) and marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring.
The Spring Festival 春节 marks a new year on the lunar calendar and represents the desire for a new life.
Chinese New Year 2020 (a Year of the Rat)
In popular Chinese astrology Chinese New Year is important... For Chinese people, years begin at Chinese New Year, rather than January 1!
2020: A year of the Rat will start on January 25th.
2021: A year of the Ox will start on February 12th.
Chinese New Year Celebrations — the 4 Main Things
The main Chinese New Year activities include
1. putting up decorations
2. eating reunion dinner with family on New Year's Eve
3. firecrackers and fireworks, and
4. giving red envelopes and other gifts. These four things are introduced below.
Public celebrations: In many Chinese cities, from New Year's Day, traditional performances can be seen: dragon dances, lion dances, and imperial performances like an emperor's wedding. A great variety of traditional Chinese products are on offer, and rarely seen Chinese snacks. City parks and temple fairs are the places to go for this.
1. Chinese New Year Decorations — Lucky Red Items
Every street, building, and house where Spring Festival is celebrated is decorated with red. Red is the main color for the festival, as red is believed to be an auspicious color.
Red Chinese lanterns hang in streets; red couplets are pasted on doors; banks and official buildings are decorated with red New Year pictures depicting images of prosperity.
Most public decoration is done a month before, but home decoration is traditionally done on Chinese New Year's Eve.
As 2020 will be a year of the Rat, decorations related to rats will be commonly seen. Look out for red rat dolls for children and New Year paintings with rats on.
2. Chinese New Year's Eve — Family Time
Chinese New Year (Lunar New Year) is a time for families to be together. Chinese New Year's Eve is the most important time. Wherever they are, people are expected to be home to celebrate the festival with their families.
The Chinese New Year's Eve dinner is called 'reunion dinner', and is believed to be the most important meal of the year.
Like people waiting in New York Time Square to see the ball dropping, Chinese people have the custom of staying up late on Chinese New Year's Eve to welcome the new year's arrival.
After reunion dinner, families normally sit together to watch the Spring Festival Gala, one of the most watched TV shows in China. At the same time, most people send WeChat red envelopes or short messages to acquaintances by phone.
3. Firecrackers and Fireworks at Chinese New Year
It has long been a Chinese tradition to set off firecrackers from the first minute of their new year. Fireworks have increasingly been added to the cacophony. From public displays in major cities to millions of private celebrations in China's rural areas, setting off firecrackers and fireworks is an indispensable festivity.
Billions of fireworks go up in China at 12am Chinese New Year, the most anywhere at any time of year.
4. Chinese New Year Gifts and Red Envelopes
Like at Christmas in other countries, people exchange gifts during the Spring Festival. In rural areas and for older people the New Year gift giving tradition is still strong, but increasingly younger people prefer just to receive red envelopes (by hand or electronically).
The most common New Year gifts are red envelopes. Red envelopes have money in, and are believed to bring good luck because they are red. They are given to children and retirees. Customarily only employers give red envelopes to working adults.
Practical Guide: How to Celebrate the Chinese New Year
Businesses and public institutions in China take a 7-day Chinese New Year holiday, but those who need to (like us) will have some staff on duty. However, most large malls, tourist attractions, public transport, hotels, and restaurants will open as usual, or even stay open longer! Also see when transport will be overloaded and when local customs are due to happen.
Chinese New Year Foods (Have Lucky Meanings)
Food for the New Year emphasizes lucky symbolic meanings such as fish, which sounds like the Chinese word for 'surplus'. These foods are eaten during the 16-day festive season, and particularly for the New Year's Eve family reunion dinner.
The luckiest Chinese New Year foods (and their symbolic meanings) are:
- Fish (an increase in prosperity)
- Chinese dumplings (great wealth)
- Glutinous rice cake (a higher income or position)
Chinese New Year Superstitions — Things You Must / Mustn't Do
In China, people are becoming less superstitious, but Chinese people traditionally believe that the year's start affects the whole year, so the Chinese Spring Festival is a season of superstitions. It's believed that what something looks like (color, shape), and what its name sounds like, gives it auspicious or ill-fated properties.
The Luckiest Things to Do at Chinese New Year
- Giving money/gifts in lucky numbers and lucky red packaging with lucky greetings.
- Eating lucky food like fish on New Year's Eve, especially carp or catfish with some left over for New Year's Day.
- Lighting lots of red firecrackers and fireworks to scare away evil and bring good luck.
The Unlucky Things to Do at Chinese New Year
- Having an accident, especially if it means hospital visits, crying, and breakages: all bad omens.
- Giving gifts with unlucky meanings, colors, words, or numbers, or even saying something inauspicious.
- Sweeping up on New Year's Day: don't "sweep all your luck away".
Chinese New Year Greetings
One of the most famous traditional greetings for Chinese New Year is the Cantonese kung hei fat choi, literally ‘greetings, become rich’. In Mandarin that’s gongxi facai /gong-sshee faa-tseye.
Chinese New Year's History
The festival has a history of over 3,000 years. Celebrations on lunar New Year's Day can be dated back to the ancient worship of heaven and earth. Over the centuries new traditions were added and celebrations became more entertainment-orientated.
In 1967 food was rationed, and there was no money! Greetings were full of Communist fervor. Now people eat out for Chinese New Year, send e-money, and greet with instant messages on WeChat (the most popular app in China).
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