Chinese New Year: What's it all about?

January 2016 Dragons New Year

With thousands of years of tradition behind it, the Chinese Spring Festival is the most important Chinese holiday of the year. Various traditional rituals and customs make it a truly unique experience.



Significance and customs of the Chinese New Year


With thousands of years of tradition behind it, Chinese New Year – or “Spring Festival” as its known to those who celebrate it – is the most important Chinese holiday of the entire year. Based on the Chinese calendar, it marks the start of the new year and shares a similar status to that of Christmas in other countries as a time for spending with family and honoring ancestors. Chinese New Year is primarily celebrated in Southeast Asia, although countless people of Chinese heritage join in the festivities all over the world.

Chinese New Year is celebrated on a different day every year, as the Chinese calendar is based on the lunar calendar, which follows the course of the moon. It generally falls on a new moon between January 21 and February 21. While the festivities traditionally last for 15 days, three of which are statutory holidays, the best celebrations are usually held over the first four to five days. That said, the famous lantern festival on the fifteenth day is always sure to bring the event to a dazzling conclusion.

The new year celebrations represent a time for people to come together, with families typically sharing a hearty, festive meal on the final evening of the year. One of the most fundamental new year customs involves eating Chinese New Year cake – a dessert made of sticky rice known locally as “Niangao”. In Chinese, this is pronounced the same way as the words for prosperity and affluence. Legend says that eating this cake on New Year will increase your prosperity and quality of life from one year to the next. The first day of the New Year is when what's known as the “reunion dinner” takes place. This is the most important meal of the entire year, with every generation of the family typically invited to eat and spend time together. The days that follow involve visiting relatives and friends to wish them a Happy New Year. In China, the color red represents happiness, good luck, and prosperity, which is why you will see it wherever you turn during the New Year celebrations. According to tradition, engaged couples are expected to give red gifts, while unmarried family members and children receive money in red gift envelopes. From clothing down to the decorations, everything is red. The streets and windows are adorned with red banners displaying the four Chinese characters which symbolize good wishes. The most basic and well-known of these characters is the “Fu” symbol, which represents good luck. It is always positioned back-to-front on these banners to signify the “advent of good luck”.

The spectacular Chinese New Year firework displays are a sight not to be missed. After the celebratory dinner, at around 11 p.m., the whole family goes outside to watch the show, which serves the dual purpose of marking the start of the new year and warding off evil spirits with the noise. The display typically lasts until the early hours of the morning.

Another essential custom of the Chinese New Year celebrations is the traditional lion dance, which takes place at every event each year. The ritual dance dates back to the origins of Imperial China and is deeply rooted in the country's culture. Symbolizing good luck, happiness, and harmony, it is said to ward off evil spirits and negative energy. And while this lucky dance can be seen all over during new year celebrations, it is also performed at store openings, inauguration ceremonies, weddings, and other special occasions.

In terms of the Chinese Zodiac, 2016 is the year of the monkey.