What is Chinese New Year?

Mary McMahon

In many parts of Asia, nations follow the lunar calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar used by the rest of the world. As a result, the year starts on a different day, usually in January or February by the Gregorian calendar. Many nations including Vietnam and Korea celebrate the lunar New Year with festivals and special foods. The Chinese, however, have turned the celebration into an art form: a 15 day festival called the Spring Festival in China, although it is known to the rest of the world as Chinese New Year.

A map of China.
A map of China.

Chinese New Year begins on the first day of the first moon of the year, which is considered to be a particularly auspicious day. Children are given hong bao, lucky red envelopes full of money, and households exchange visits and gifts. Most celebrants at Chinese New Year wear red, which is a lucky color, and also refrain from reflecting on the past year and uttering unlucky words, as it is believed that the first day of the new year will determine your fortune in the months to come.

Chinese around the world celebrate Chinese New Year.
Chinese around the world celebrate Chinese New Year.

Chinese New Year continues with 15 days of celebration and auspicious days, including a day to welcome the god of wealth, a day to celebrate farming and produce, and days to celebrate friends and family. Friendships and family relationships are a very important part of Chinese New Year, and a great deal of food and dinner invitations are exchanged as part of this tradition. Numerous lucky foods are served throughout the Chinese New Year festival, and after all that rich dining, the 13th day of the festival is set aside for eating rice and bitter greens to cleanse the palate.

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Korea is one of the countries that celebrate the lunar New Year.
Korea is one of the countries that celebrate the lunar New Year.

On the 15th day, the Chinese New Year celebration culminates with the Lantern Festival, which is traditionally held at night. During the Lantern Festival, hundreds of citizens flood the street with lanterns representing wealth, animals, historical figures, plants, and a variety of other things. The lanterns are paraded through towns and cities throughout China, Taiwan, and parts of the world with large Chinese communities. The Lantern Festival ends with a burst of fireworks to celebrate the upcoming year while celebrants eat special round dumplings to celebrate unity.

In Vietnam, the new year festival is known as Tet Nguyen Dan, and is celebrated for seven days. Much like Chinese New Year, Tet is believed to be an especially auspicious period in Vietnam which will establish the fortunes of celebrants for the coming year. Special foods are eaten and gifts are exchanged. In Korea, the one day festival is known as Sol-nal, and is a time to reflect on ancestors and family.

Fireworks ring in the Chinese new year.
Fireworks ring in the Chinese new year.

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Discussion Comments


2015 is the in Chinese New Year the year of the sheep. According to the Chinese New Year zodiac "Sheep" are kind and generous. So people born in 1955 and every 12 years before or after are in Chinese zodiac "Sheep".


@browncoat - I don't know very much about the holiday in general, but I always know what day it's on, because I get a phone call from some students of mine from Shanghai. I taught them English a few years ago for several months as part of a volunteer service and then I moved away, but they still call me every year to give me a Chinese New Year greeting, which I find so lovely.

I do like a holiday where you are encouraged to keep up with the people in your life. I feel like we need more of those, because at the moment most of the holidays I end up celebrating become more about avoiding people than actually trying to wish them well and find out what they've been up to.


@clintflint - Well, I suspect it's just not that commercial to Western eyes because they aren't as involved in it as they are in their own holidays, so they only see it from the perspective of people who don't have to buy a lot to participate.

But the Chinese New Year lantern festival in particular is supposed to be about families and couples and I've even heard it referred to as the Chinese equivalent of Valentine's Day. I do think it's lovely that a lot of places seem to have developed their own version of the festival so that they can enjoy it in their own way.


Chinese New Year is a really fun festival when you live in a city, because a lot of places will go to huge amounts of trouble to decorate and provide entertainment. The lantern festival at the end of the month is my particular favorite, since they make all kinds of artistic lanterns for our local one and they are so beautiful to walk among.

I also like that Chinese New Year seems to be a lot more about family and community than about materialism, which a lot of Western festivals seem to boil down to these days.

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