5 Fascinating Facts About The Chinese New Year

Red lanterns hang as decorations during the Chinese New Year.
Decorative red lanterns hang around buildings for the Chinese New Year.
Red lanterns serve as decorations not only throughout the Chinese New Year festivities, but also during the Red Lantern festival that highlights the end of the holiday.

Millions of people around the world celebrate the Chinese New Year every January or February in anticipation of the coming spring. What makes this holiday significant? Everything from its history and traditions to its very size makes the Chinese New Year stand out as one of the world’s most celebrated festivals!

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1. The Chinese New Year Signifies The Coming Of Spring

Even though it falls in wintertime, the Chinese New Year marks the second new moon after winter solstice. This also marks the end of the coldest days of winter. This is why this centuries-old holiday is also know as “Spring Festival.” Even though more wintry weather may still be ahead, the Chinese traditionally begin to plan with this holiday for the Spring season of planting and harvesting. As a result, the Chinese New Year celebrates both new beginnings and a fresh start. The holiday has many well-loved and symbolic traditions and associations as well. Unlike the Western Zodiac which switches Zodiac signs monthly, the Chinese Zodiac animal switches annually. These traditions determine how to avoid bad luck and evil spirits while ushering in good luck such as wearing new clothes, serving rice cakes, or putting up red decorations among others.

Even though China adopted the Gregorian calendar at the turn of the 20th century, this holiday is based on the ancient Chinese calendar. On this calendar, also known as the Lunar Calendar, the Spring Festival falls between mid-January and mid-February. This is the same date as the second new moon following the winter solstice. Every year, then, the date for the Chinese New Year changes. For example, in 2022, the Chinese New Year falls on the 1st of February. In 2023, the Chinese New Year falls on the 22nd of January.

2. The Chinese New Year Is Celebrated Around The World

People throughout the world, from China to Singapore and London to New York, celebrate the Chinese New Year. In fact, some estimates claim that between one-sixth to one-fourth of the world’s population celebrate this holiday. Over 1 billion celebrate it in China alone! The Chinese New Year rivals only Christmas as the most celebrated holiday in countries around the globe.

Due to the holiday’s widespread popularity, different traditions can be found associated with its celebration around the world. In China, for example, the Spring Festival lasts for several days and many people return to their hometowns for the celebration. In other parts of the world, the celebration encompasses only a few days. Some estimates are that over 2020 million people will be celebrating the Chinese New Year in 2020 alone. With the world’s population at 7.7 billion, that means one in every four people will be celebrating this well-loved holiday!

Oranges sit amid festive decorations for the Chinese New Year.
Oranges serve as symbols of happiness during the Chinese New Year, also known “Spring Festival.”

3. Oranges and Tangerines Are Popular Symbols of Happiness

During Chinese New Year celebrations, mandarin oranges and tangerines, as well as other citrus fruits, become highly sought after. These oranges go on display during the festival as they are believed to promote good fortune. Potted plants with miniature oranges can be seen blossoming throughout the Spring Festival celebrations. These small decorative plants can also be found in flower markets, for those looking to find and secure for themselves one of these symbols of abundance.

Oranges and tangerines also make great gifts and will be exchanged during the holiday. They are viewed as auspicious emblems of present and future happiness. During the celebration, parents place mandarin oranges on children’s pillows, alongside the traditional red envelopes, to help bring good blessings to them and to their families. Tradition holds that the orange carries highly positive associations and will help those celebrating to know good fortune in the future.

Red envelopes lay on table amid festive decorations for the Chinese New Year.
A handful of red envelopes await their dispersal to Chinese New Year participants.

4. Red Envelopes Are Exchanged To Share Good Wishes

Another beloved tradition and positive association during the Chinese New Year is that of the red envelopes. During the celebration, people will generously give one another red envelopes with money enclosed as gifts. It is sometimes referred to as “lucky money,” which is a very integral part of Chinese culture. In fact, some people will even walk around with these cash-stuffed envelopes, in case they encounter someone with whom they want to share a gift. Some leaders and employers use the red envelope as a way to bless their followers and employees with a special holiday bonus.

Red envelopes will also be shared between family and friends. Grandparents will give red envelopes with money to their grandchildren as a way to help ensure future happiness and abundance. Children may then sleep with the envelope for several days before opening the envelope. When someone receives a red envelope as a gift during the Chinese New Year, the best way to respond is by accepting the gift with gratitude and then opening the gift in private.

Decorative red lanterns hang amid spring blossoms during the Chinese New Year.
Beautiful red lanterns are displayed throughout Chinese New Year festivities.

5. The Chinese New Year Is The Longest Holiday In China

In addition to being China’s most important holiday, the Chinese New year stands also as the country’s longest. The Spring Festival celebrations last for over 2 weeks! During this time, millions of people will travel to their hometowns to spend the holiday with their families, which makes it the world’s largest annual migration. Sometimes, family and friends may even stretch the festivities out over a month or more! Just imagine how the traffic is on Chinese New Year’s eve!

The holiday concludes with the Lantern Festival, observed on the 15th day of the Chinese New Year. During the Lantern Festival, which falls on the night of a full moon, people gather with their families to watch fireworks. They then light their lanterns and release them into the air or send them out on waters of nearby rivers. Crafted with paper, these elaborate lanterns are made in a variety of shapes and sizes. People will spend the evening of the Lantern Festival enjoying the beauty of the lanterns, as well as celebrating together.

The Chinese word for New Year is “xīn nián.” And to greet it, it reads 新年快乐 (xīn nián kuài lè!). The Chinese New Year celebration is also celebrated in many countries such as South Korea and other Asian countries, or where there are substantial Chinese communities such as San Francisco, where New Year’s festivities typically come with official fireworks displays, to usher in a new animal’s zodiac year.

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About the Author: Christine Switzer

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