Nine Facts about Chinese New Year
Today in China marks the start of Chinese New Year (in the U.S., it’s tomorrow). This festival is celebrated around the world as a fresh start, the introduction of spring, plantings, and new beginnings—we could all use that this year! Nearly 20% of the world takes part, so check out these nine interesting facts about the Chinese New Year.
1. Chinese New Year by another name
It’s also known as chunjie (春节), or the Spring Festival. While it’s still wintry, spring is just around the corner! Celebrated by North Korea, South Korea, and Vietnam, it’s also known as the Lunar New Year since it follows the lunar calendar.
2. This year, Chinese New Year is on…
The Chinese New Year’s start date ranges from January 21 to February 20. This year it starts on February 12. According to the lunar calendar, it should start on January 1 and last until January 15, but since China now follows the Gregorian calendar, the date can be all over the place!
3. The longest holiday
Technically 15 days long, this is the longest Chinese holiday. However, since celebrations begin on New Year’s Eve, it’s often considered 16 days long, and if you follow the traditional (lunar) dates, it can begin in December with the Laba Festival (腊八节 / là bā jié), which can make it closer to 40 days long!
Much like with holidays such as Christmas, many stores are closed during the holiday, so the Chinese stock up on all their supplies the month before.
4. Fireworks included?
Definitely. It’s believed that the most fireworks in the world are set off at midnight on New Year’s Day. Firecrackers are said to scare off bad spirits, which is a large part of the festival—warding off bad spirits and omens, welcoming in good vibes, and celebrating ancestors. Fireworks are also set off later in the morning to welcome the new season, while pieces of paper and printed gold bars are additionally lit and released to honor loved ones and ancestors.
The festival is awash in red, as red is known as a color that protects against evil. Red paper will be stuck up on walls and windows, both fake and real red chili peppers and red lanterns will be hung around, as well. New spring clothing is added to wardrobes, especially in red, and children are given money in lucky red envelopes.
Traditionally, dumplings would be eaten for every meal, but more recently, dumplings are served for dinner the first day. Desserts also have special meaning during this time, mostly based on the name of the dish. One popular dessert, tangyuan, for example, means “soup balls,” but it sounds like tuanyuan (团圆), meaning reunion.
Fa gao (发糕) is a hybrid of sponge cakes and muffins that are dyed in festive colors. The fa as in fa cai (发财), means “to get rich”—a great reason to eat this dessert!
7. The Year of the…
Like Western zodiacs, there are 12 Chinese zodiac animals. However, unlike the Western ones, Chinese zodiacs represent an entire year instead of a month. 2021 is the year of the Ox. While some animals aren’t auspicious in Chinese culture, the positive traits of these zodiac animals are bestowed on the people born in that year. You’ll want to know what your Chinese zodiac animal is!
8. Festival’s End
The festival ends on the first full moon of the lunar cycle, 15 days from the start of the Chinese New Year. Known as the Yuanxiao Festival (元宵节 / yuán xiāo jié) or Lantern Festival (灯节 / dēng jié), that night is one of freedom and celebration, marked largely with the release of lanterns.
9. Around the World
If there is a Chinatown near you, head over to get a feel for what the festival is all about. Cities all over the world boast that they have the largest Chinese New Year celebration outside of Asia. San Francisco, Sydney, and London all have large Spring Festivals, though they will likely be scaled back this year. Chinese New Year has also been known to the biggest human migration event of the year, however, with travel still on the back burner, local and home festivities are more likely.