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What is Chinese New Year?

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So what is Chinese New Year really all about? Along with being the start of spring on the Chinese calendar, Chinese New Year is about symbolically doing away with the old of the previous year and ushering in health, good fortune, prosperity, and happiness is the new year.

Chinese New Year is a time to catch up with family, enjoy fireworks, clean out the house, forget grudges, give gifts, and enjoy good food; a fresh start for all.

Chinese New Year runs for 15 consecutive days and is celebrated not just in Asia but throughout the world!

1. When is Chinese New Year?

Chinese New Year firecrackers
Grant Faint / Getty Images

The dates for Chinese New Year change each year because the festival is based upon the Chinese lunisolar calendar rather than our Gregorian calendar. Regardless, you can typically expect the celebration to begin around January or February.

Each new year coincides with an animal sign from the Chinese zodiac which rotates on a 12-year cycle. The year of your animal sign is considered auspicious and the best time to undertake a big new endeavor.

Chinese New Year goes for 15 consecutive days and then finishes with the Lantern Festival.

The start dates for Chinese New Year:

  • 2012: January 23 (Year of the Dragon)
  • 2013: February 10 (Year of the Snake)
  • 2014: January 31 (Year of the Horse)

2. Chinese New Year Preparations

Asia Travel
Photo by Greg Rodgers

Unlike our New Year's Eve celebration in the West, families who take Chinese New Year seriously begin preparations weeks in advance! After all, the prosperity of the upcoming year depends upon ushering in good luck.

Preparations begin at home with a thorough house cleaning, the removal of broken or 'unlucky' items, and even new decorations -- particularly fresh flowers and calligraphy.

But the preparations don't just involve the house; hair and fingernails are trimmed and new outfits -- typically of the auspicious color red -- are purchased for the occasion.

3. Celebrating Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year Traditions Dancers
Photo by Greg Rodgers

Although tourists typically only see the first day or two of Chinese New Year, the festival is observed for 15 days with a list of traditions to perform on each day.

While a lot of the festival is quietly celebrated with family at home, tourists can enjoy parades with lots of firecrackers, fireworks displays, processions carrying lanterns in the streets, and performances such as the famous lion dance.

During the buildup to Chinese New Year, special markets are set up and numerous businesses run sales and specials before they close for the public holiday.

4. Chinese New Year Traditions

Lion Dance - CNY - Chinese New Year
Photo by Greg Rodgers

Chinese New Year begins with a traditional meal of fish and dumplings with family and friends on the eve before the big day. Fireworks follow and the first two days of the festival are celebrated with the most gusto. Fireworks are thrown to frighten away evil spirits, windows are opened to let in good luck, and small gifts inside of red envelopes are exchanged.

The next 15 days after the start of the holiday follow a loose set of traditions that are observed to honor ancestors and to receive the blessings from various deities.

5. Say Happy New Year in Chinese

happy new year in chinese
Photo by Greg Rodgers

Chinese New Year is celebrated around the world, making it arguably one of the most widely observed holidays in the world!

You can get a few smiles and wish Chinese friends in your community a happy new year just by saying: 'gong xi fa cai'.

6. The Chinese Zodiac

Chinese man
Photo by Greg Rodgers

Whether you believe or not, reading about the Chinese zodiac and your associated animal sign can be fun. The Chinese zodiac follows a 12-year cycle with an animal representing each year. The year that you are born determines your animal sign.

When your animal sign comes back around, it's your more auspicious time to do something big. Many devotees use the zodiac to determine the best time for when to get married, start a business, buy a house, write a book, etc.

Each year is also associated with an element (metal, water, wood, fire, or earth) and either yin or yang, depending upon the last digit of the year.

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