Even though New Year’s Day is behind us now, Chinese New Year traditions and celebrations are still to come. From special food, to firecrackers and couplets, this special day in the Chinese calendar is full of wonderful activities.
Chinese New Year is associated with many traditions, myths and customs. Read on to find out more about this colorful day.
This special day in the Chinese calendar is not only celebrated on a different day, but the honoring the day is done in quite a different way, as well.
If you are interested in the traditions of the Chinese New Year, be sure to check out our post on the meanings of Halloween. It is more spiritual than you might think.
What is the Chinese New Year?
The Chinese New Year is a traditional holiday that is celebrated on the first day of the Chinese calendar.
In 2021, the first day of the Chinese New Year falls on February 12 – over a month later than our normal New Year. The holiday is celebrated until February 26.
In China, this annual holiday is also known as the Spring Festival. The holiday marks the end of winter and beginning of the spring season.
Observances take place from New Year’s Eve (the evening of the day before the first day of the Chinese calendar) to the day of the Lantern Festival, which takes place on the 15th day of the year. This makes it the longest festival in the Chinese Calendar.
In China, this is an official public holiday. The Chinese people can get seven days off work. Even though the public holiday is 7 days long, many people celebrate the day for a longer period of time.
Chinese New Year traditions and customs
The origin of the Chinese New Year festival can be traced back to about 3500 years ago.
This holiday has evolved over time and its customs have also undergone changes. Food, decorations, activities and many more things are part of this annual celebration.
Legends about the Chinese New Year
One legend tells us 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.
Another popular legend features the mythical beast Nian, who ate crops and livestock (and even people!) on the eve of a new year. To prevent this happening, people put out food at their doors for Nian.
Since Nian was afraid of loud noises and the color red, lanterns and red scrolls were also used to stop Nian from entering.
Regional customs and traditions celebrating the Chinese New Year vary widely within China. There are some that are popular throughout most of the provinces, however.February 12 is the start of the Chinese New Year. This year is the year of the Ox. Find out more at Always The Holidays.#ChineseNewYear 🉐🧨🎈 Click To Tweet
Chinese New Year traditions – food
The evening preceding the Chinese New Year’s day is a time for Chinese families to gather for a reunion dinner. Prior to this, families often clean the house thoroughly to sweep away any bad fortune and to welcome in good luck.
The significance of the family is important in a Chinese New Year celebration. 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.
Chinese New Year couplets
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.
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 usually decorate for our New Year’s day, but that makes sense, since our celebration is one day and the Chinese New Year lasts for two weeks.
If you would like to decorate for the Chinese New Year, I’ve included a set of couplets in the project card at the bottom of this post that you can print out. Each couplet has a different meaning.
Print out a few copies and attach them to your doorway to bring good luck to your home this year!
Chinese New Year firecrackers
Lighting firecrackers is also popular for Chinese New Year in much the same way as we love to do this for the fourth of July in the United States.
However, the reason for lighting the firecrackers is different. Both firecrackers and fireworks are set off at the stroke of midnight to ward off evil spirits.
The traditional Chinese golden firecrackers are thought to bring security to your home, as well as luck and happiness for the coming year.
In large Chinese cities, fireworks are set off for one to two hours.
In some homes, families set off firecrackers when before they leave the house. This symbolizes good luck for the coming year
Chinese New Year red envelopes
Many people give money in red paper envelopes. These are often given to children 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.
Generally, the closer the relationship is, the higher the amount of money in the envelope. Some companies give employees a red envelope with a holiday bonus on the last working day of the New Year.
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.
This festival has become a day of great significance and dates back to the Western Han Dynasty.
In ancient times, the lanterns were simple objects, with more ornate ones being only used for emperors and noblemen. In modern times, ordinary citizens embellish their lanterns with more complex designs.
The Lantern Festival marks the final day of traditional Chinese New Year celebrations.
Chinese calendar vs solar calendar
Our Western calendar, which used to be called the Gregorian calendar, is a solar calendar. The calendar counts the time it takes for the earth to go around the sun once a year.
Each year, the months have the same number of days, except for leap years when February gets an extra day.
The Chinese calendar is a lunisolar calendar. It counts the time it takes for the moon to go around the earth as a month, as well as counting the time for the earth to go around the sun as one year.
This means that months in the Chinese lunar calendar have a variable number of days each year. Sometimes, that means a whole extra month!
Chinese markets abound
During the days when the Chinese New Year festival is celebrated, temporary markets are set up that sell mainly New Year’s goods such as red clothing, fireworks, decorations and traditional food.
The markets are often decorated with a large amount of lanterns, since these feature prominently in the Chinese New Year’s celebration.
Colors and the Chinese New Year
Colors are important in the festival, with red and gold being most commonly 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.
The color gold represents wealth so it is used in hope of coming riches in the new year.
Each year of the Chinese calendar celebrates a different animal. There is a year repeating cycle where each animal gets a turn for a year.
Those of you who are stubborn will be delighted to learn that 2021 is considered the Year of the Ox in the Chinese astrological calendar.
The ox is the second in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac signs. This means that every 12 years, we celebrate the same animal. Other years of the Ox are 1961, 1985, 1997, and 2009.
When this Year of the Ox is over, we’ll have to wait until 2033 for it to be celebrated as the year of the ox again.
Check out this post to read more about the Year of the Ox traits, compatibility and much more.
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.
As one would expect, the holiday is celebrated very differently depending on the generation. While older people take great pleasure in honoring relatives, 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.
How to celebrate Chinese New Year
Even though the Chinese New Year is not an official holiday in the US, it falls on the same day as Lincoln’s birthday this year, so it does coincide with an official holiday in some states.
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This gives us a chance to celebrate both days if we are so inclined. Here are some ideas.
- Looking for a neat Chinese DIY project? Try making a no sew Chinese fortune cookie.
- Attend a New Year’s Day parade to enjoy the colorful costumes.
- Head to Chinatown for some shopping or food experiences.
- Decorate your doorway with couplets to welcome guests.
- Cook teriyaki chicken for dinner during the days of the New Year.
- Read the book Chinese New Year Wishes to your young child to introduce them to the festival.
Sticking with traditions throughout the years
It is interesting to me that the Chinese New Year falls during the winter as our Christmas and New Year do. 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 for the holidays.
Pin this post about Chinese New Year traditions for later
Would you like a reminder of this post celebrating the Chinese New Year ? Just pin this image to one of your boards on Pinterest so that you can easily find it later.
Admin note: This post first appeared on the blog in January of 2014. I have updated the post to add all new photos, updated information about the zodiac animals, printable couplets, and a video for you to enjoy.
- Heavy card stock
- Deskjet printer
- Load your printer with heavy cardstock.
- Print out the couplets below.
- Trim and attach with tape to both sides of your doorway.
Each couplet has a different meaning. Those on the first couplet symbolize:
- Happy New Year
Those on the second couplet symbolize:
- Wishes come true