Chinese New Year Celebrations and Traditions

Chinese New Year is a traditional Chinese holiday that is celebrated on the first day of the Chinese calendar.  In 2020, the first day of the Chinese New Year falls on January 25 – almost a month later than our normal New Year. 

Happy Chinese New Year

This special day on the Chinese calendar is also celebrated in quite a different way than our is.

Traditions and Details about The Chinese New Year Celebration.

In China, the holiday is also known as the Spring Festival.  The holiday traditionally runs for a full 15 days,  which makes it the longest festival in the Chinese Calendar.

Legend has it that in ancient times, Buddha asked all of the animals to meet him on the Chinese New year.  Since 12 animals came, Buddha named a year after each one.  

We still follow this tradition today when we study astrology and follow the Chinese years.  (I’m a Goat, my daughter Jess is a dragon, and my husband is a rat!)  In the normal astrology pattern he is a fish and I’m a bull.  Funny how my stubbornness seems constant isn’t it?)

Zodiac CalendarRegional customs and traditions to celebrate the Chinese new year vary widely within China.  There are some that are popular though throughout most of the provinces.

January 25 is the start of the #ChineseNewYear. This year is the year of the rat.  Find out more at Always The Holidays. 🉐🧨🎈 Click To Tweet

Food the Chinese New Year

The evening preceding the Chinese New Year’s day is a time for Chinese families to gather for a reunion dinner.  Families will often clean the house thoroughly to sweep away any bad fortune and to welcome in good luck.Chinese food in bowls

The significance of the family is important in Chinese New Year celebrations. The New Year’s Eve dinner is an important event. Family tables will often leave an empty spot for those family members who are unable to attend the event.

Decorations for the Chinese New Year

A few days before the Chinese New Year, many Chinese homemakers will do a complete cleaning of the house to signify the removal of the old and welcoming of the new year. 

Windows and doors are often decorated with red colored paper couplets with themes that deal with good fortune.  Chinese new year greetings

Many Chinese homes are decorated about 10 days before the Spring Festival.  Most decorations involve the color red and use lucky images as well. It is not uncommon to see decorations for the animal of the year. 

Here in the USA, we don’t decorate for New Year’s day here, but that makes sense, since our celebration is one day and theirs is two weeks.


Lighting firecrackers is also popular in much the same way as we love to do this for the fourth of July in the United States.Chinese firecrackers

Many people give money in red paper envelopes.  These are often given to childred from their parents, grandparents, and other close friends as Chinese New Year gifts.

Red is considered the luckiest color in China, and it is widely used during festivals such as the Chinese New Year and other important events like weddings. These money envelopes are often decorated in gold and have sayings on them.

Chinese money envelope

Photo credit Wikimedia Commons


The Lantern Festival

On the 15th day of the New year, the lantern festival is held.  Some of the lanterns are real works of art, painted with birds, flowers zodiac signs and the like.  A parade is held on Lantern festival day and children carry lanterns.

Lantern parade with a dragon

So that the Chinese Calendar will “catch up” with the solar calendar, the Chinese add an extra month every few years (7 years out of a 19 year cycle). This is similar to adding an extra day on our calendar for leap year.

Chinese Markets

During the days that celebrate the Chinese New Year festival, temporary markets are set up that sell mainly New Year’s goods such as red clothing, fireworks, decorations and traditional food.Chinese market

The markets are often decorated with a large amount of lanterns, since these feature prominently in the New Year’s celebration.

Colors and the Chinese New Year

Colors are important in the festival, with red and gold being used throughout the celebrations. 

The color red is chosen for two reasons. The first is because red is a considered a lucky color and the second because it is thought that the color will  frighten off the monster Nian who is thought to come on New Years Eve.

Red and gold Chinese lanterns

The color gold represents wealth so it is used in hope of coming riches in the new year.

Year of the Rat – 2020

Each year of the Chinese calendar celebrates a different animal. For those of you who are afraid of critters, you will be frightened to learn that 2020 is considered the year of the Pig in the Chinese astrological calendar.

2020 is the year of the rat

The rat is the first in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac signs. This means that every 12 years celebrates the same animal. Other years of the Rat are 1960, 1984, 1996, and 2008. When this one ends, we’ll have to wait until 2032 for it to be celebrated as the year of the rat again.

The Rat is thought to be associated with spirit, alertness, wit, flexibility and vitality in China. On the negative side, the rat is thought to be timid, stubborn, picky unstable and querulous.Happy Chinese New Year - 2020 the year of the rat

People born in the Year of the Rat are alert with strong instincts which makes them to be great businessmen.They are also sophisticated and popular when interacting with others and are very adaptable. 

Honoring Relatives in the Chinese New Year

Departed relatives are an important part of The Chinese New year.   The holiday is a time to honor household and heavenly gods and to always honor relatives that have passed on.Chinese woman

As one would expect, the holiday is celebrated very differently depending on the generation.    The younger generations of Chinese families now observe the holiday in a very different manner from their ancestors.

For many young people, the holiday has changed from an opportunity to renew family ties to a chance for relaxation from work.  Doesn’t that sound like some in the younger generations of our society too?

Looking for a neat Chinese DIY project?  Try this idea for a No Sew Chinese Fortune Cookie.  Get the directions here.

No sew fortune cookie.

It is interesting to me that the Chinese New Year falls during the winter as our Christmas and New Year are.   Originally, the celebration was set to coincide with a down time before the new year of farming started, and since many Chinese were farmers, this made sense.

Today, even though most of their population is urban, as our is, they often still return to their rural roots for the holiday, just as many of us do when we visit family.

Admin note:  This post first appeared on the blog in January of 2014. I have updated the post to add new photos, information about the year of the rat and a video for you to enjoy.

Would you like a reminder of this post for Chinese New Year Celebrations and Traditions? Just pin this image to one of your boards on Pinterest so that you can easily find it later.Chinese New Year Celebrations and Traditions

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