Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year – China's Grandest Festival & Longest Public Holiday

Chinese New Year
Chinese: 春节 chūn jié
Also called: Lunar New Year, Spring Festival
Observed by: All Chinese people; people in some other Asian countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines…
2020 date: Saturday, Jan. 25th, Rat
2021 date: Friday, Feb. 12th, Ox
Holiday: 7 days

Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival or Lunar New Year, is the grandest festival in China, with a 7-day long holiday. As the most colorful annual event, the traditional CNY celebration lasts longer, up to two weeks, and the climax arrives around the Lunar New Year's Eve.

China during this period is dominated by iconic red lanterns, loud fireworks, massive banquets and parades, and the festival even triggers exuberant celebrations across the globe.
 

2020 – The Year of the Rat

In 2020 Chinese New Year festival falls on Jan. 25. It is the Year of the Rat according to the Chinese zodiac, which features a 12-year cycle with each year represented by a specific animal. People born in the Years of the Rat including 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, and 2008 will experience their Zodiac Year of Birth (Ben Ming Nian).
 

Time for Family Reunion

Like Christmas in Western countries, Chinese New Year is a time to be home with family, chatting, drinking, cooking, and enjoying a hearty meal together.

 10 Facts You Should Know about Chinese New Year
 

2020 Chinese New Year Calendar
2019
2020
2021
 

When is Chinese New Year?

Unlike the universal New Year observed on January 1st, Chinese New Year is never on a fixed date. The dates vary according to Chinese lunar calendar, but generally fall on a day between January 21st and February 20th in the Gregorian calendar.
 
How long is the festival? Most people in China have at least seven days off work, including three days' legal holiday, and the preceding and following weekends. Here's a CNY timetable for recent years, marked in UTC/GMT+08:00.
 
Year Date Day Holiday
2019 Feb. 5 Tuesday Feb. 4 - 10
2020 Jan. 25 Saturday Jan. 24 - 30
2021 Feb. 12 Friday Feb. 11 - 17
2022 Feb. 1 Tuesday Jan. 31 - Feb. 6
2023 Jan. 22 Sunday Jan. 21 - 27

 
 

Why is it called Spring Festival?

The festival date is in January or February, around the Chinese solar term the 'Beginning of Spring', so it is also named the 'Spring Festival'.

 

When all streets and lanes are decorated with vibrant red lanterns and colorful lights, the Lunar New Year is approaching. What do Chinese people do then? After half a month's busy time with a house spring-clean and holiday shopping, the festivities kick off on the New Year's Eve, and last 15 days, until the full moon arrives with the Lantern Festival. Scroll down and let's look through the core traditions and practices of the Chinese New Year.

 

House Cleaning and Decorating – half month before

New Year DecorationNo matter whether in a city apartment or a countryside villa, there must be a diligent housewife exerting all her energies to carry out a thorough clean of the house before Chinese New Year. Sweeping, mopping, wiping, washing… Sometimes the whole family needs to give a hand with the chores, to make sure the house is rid of the old year's dust and is prepared for taking in the fortune of the New Year. Then every house is decorated with the most favored color, the bright Red – red lanterns, Chinese knots, Spring Festival couplets, 'Fu' character pictures, and red window paper-cuts. Read more about How to Decorate for Chinese New Year.

Family Reunion Dinner – New Year's Eve

Family Reunion DinnerHome is the principal focus of the Spring Festival. All Chinese people manage to make their way home at the latest by New Year's Eve, for a reunion dinner with the whole family. The essential course on all Chinese menus for a reunion dinner will be a steamed or braised whole fish, representing a surplus every year. Various kinds of meat, vegetable, and seafood are made into dishes with auspicious meanings. Dumplings are indispensable for northerners, while rice cakes for southerners. The night is spent enjoying this feast along with cheerful family talk and laughter. Read more Chinese New Year Foods.

Giving Red Envelopes – Best Wishes through Money

Red EnvelopesFrom newborn babies to teenagers, luck money will be given by seniors, wrapped in red packets in the hope of dispelling evil spirits from the kids. CNY 100 to 500 notes are commonly sealed in a red envelope, while there are big ones with up to CNY 5,000 especially in the rich southeast regions. Besides a small disposable amount, most of the money is used to buy the kids toys, snacks, clothes, stationery, or saved for their future educational expenditure. Read more about Red Envelope.

Send Greetings and Red Envelopes through Wechat

Greetings and Red Envelopes through WechatWith the popularity of instant messaging apps, greeting cards are seldom seen. From the morning to the midnight of the New Year's Eve, people use the app Wechat to send various text messages, voice messages, and emojis, some of which featuring the New Year's animal sign, to exchange greetings and good wishes. Digital red envelopes are becoming considerably popular and a big red envelope in a group chat always starts a happy grabbing game.

Watching CCTV New Year's Gala – 20:00 to 0:30

CCTV New Year's GalaIt is undeniable that the CCTV New Year's Gala is China's most watched television special, despite the declining viewership in recent years. The 4.5-hour live broadcast features music, dance, comedy, opera, and acrobatic performances. Although the audience becomes more and more critical of the programs, that never stops people turning on the TV on time. The delightful songs and words act as a habitual background to a reunion dinner, for after all it's been a tradition ever since 1983.

Setting off Firecrackers at 0:00

Firework ShowThere is New Year bell on the TV gala at 0:00, but you can hardly hear it since there would be loud bangs of firecrackers, from 0:00 to 0:30 and even later. Chinese people have by long tradition set off firecrackers, originally to scare away the legendary monster Nian which emerges at midnight. In recent years, many urban areas have a firecracker ban or set special area or period for fireworks, to prevent accidents and threats to air quality.

Half-month Visiting Relatives – from One Family to Another

Visiting RelativesAfter a day at home, people start to visit relatives from the second day of the New Year. The married couples go to visit the wife's parents' home on the second day. The following days will be spent in various relatives' houses. For some extended families in rural areas, half a month is barely enough to visit everyone. People bring gifts to one another's homes and give red envelopes to the kids. That's a ritual. Get inspired by more Chinese New Year Gift Ideas.

Folk Shows and Temple Fairs – Lasting to 15th day of 1st lunar month

Folk Shows during Chinese New YearIn urban areas, there are bustling temple fairs with religious worship, costume performances, games, and local snacks. Some locations have lantern fairs, offering great night fun. In rural areas, more authentic folk shows are likely to be seen, including the yangko dance and stilt walking in north China and dragon and lion dances prevailing in southern regions. See Best Temple Fairs in Beijing.

 Further Reading on CNY Traditions:

What to Eat – Priority of the Festival

In China, an old saying goes 'Food is the first important thing for people' while a modern saying '3 pounds' weight gain atevery festival.' Both show the Chinese people's love of food. There probably are no other people quite like the Chinese who are so passionate and fastidious about cooking. Besides basic requirements of appearance, smell, and taste, they insist on creating festival foods bearing auspicious meanings and bring good luck.

New Year Menu from a Chinese Family

  • Dumplings

    – salty
    – boil or steam
    – symbol of fortune for its shape like an ancient Chinese gold ingot.
  • Fish

    – salty
    – steam or braise
    – symbol of a surplus in the year end and good luck for the coming year.
  • Glutinous Rice Balls

    – sweet
    – boil
    – round shape standing for completeness and family reunion.
  • Spring Rolls

    – both sweet and salty
    – fry
    – appearance like a gold bar and stuff with fresh veg meaning a fresh start.

Travel during Chinese New Year – 5 Things You should Know

1. Prepare for crowds:
The 40 days around the festival is a huge peak travel period, when all migrant workers and students are on their way home, contributing to an amazing volume of 3 billion passengers! Remember: Avoid the Spring Festival Travel Rush; if unavoidable, keep away from train travel; if you can't, buy tickets as EARLY as possible.


2. Calm down when hearing the firecrackers:
Spectacular pyrotechnics displays will light up the sky and loud bangs traverse the whole country. Don't panic. It has nothing to do with terrorists, but just celebration.


3. Shortened opening hours:
Public transport, banks, and other public service sectors have shorter opening hours during the holiday. Business comes almost to a stop. Many restaurants and shops close for the holiday.


4. Where to go:
Beijing, Xi'an, and Pingyao feature traditional celebrations of north China, Guangzhou retains south China folk customs, while Harbin is a popular January destination for the exciting ice and snow activities. See 5 Best Places to Go for Chinese New Year 2020.


5. Weather & Clothing:

– Southmost Hainan: 17 ~ 25°C; long-sleeve T-shirt or thin coat

– Southern areas like Guangdong, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Yunnan: 5 ~ 15°C; sweater + jacket or trench coat

– South and east areas including Shanghai & Hangzhou: 2 ~ 10°C; sweater + light down jacket

– Central China including Xi’an & Chengdu: -3 ~ 8 °C; sweater + thick down jacket

– North destinations around Beijing: -10 ~ 5°C; wool sweater + thick parka or down coat

– Northeast cities like Harbin: -30 ~ -10°C; as thick as possible

How to Say Happy New Year in Chinese

 
  • 新年好
    xīn nián hǎo
  • 过年好
    guò nián hǎo
  • 新年快乐
    xīn nián kuài lè
 
 

Further Reading:

3800 Years' History of Chinese New Year

Originating during the Shang Dynasty (17th - 11th century BC), it used to be a ceremony at the beginning of a year to honor ancestors and heavenly deities. 'Year' has been called 'Nian' in Chinese since the Zhou Dynasty (1046 - 256 BC). There was a legend about people fighting against a monster named 'Nian' who was afraid of the color red and loud noises. At the turn of the year, people decorated their houses in red and played with firecrackers to scare it off. Later the turn of the year became an occasion for gathering all family members for feasting, and more food traditions and entertainments are added. Read more about Chinese New Year History and the Legend of Monster Nian.

 

Chinese New Year Animals – 12 Zodiac Signs

In China, each year is represented by one of the 12 zodiac animals – Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. Chinese New Year 2020 is the year of the Rat. The animal sign is believed to dominate the year and influence the character and destiny of people born in the year. Every Chinese knows his or her own animal sign. Check here to know which Chinese zodiac animal you are, and the fortune prediction for the New Year.
- Last modified on Oct. 17, 2019 -
Questions & Answers on Chinese New Year
Asked by Jo from SINGAPORE | Oct. 09, 2019 21:59Reply
Hi, if I need to visit my daughter in Suzhou in Jan 2020 for CNY
When is the period to avoid the Chinese New Year rush?
Answers (3)
Answered by Chastity from GERMANY | Oct. 13, 2019 20:41
00Reply


The Chinese New Year rush will begin a week before the Chinese New Year Holiday. Thus you are not suggested to go there from Jan.17th ~ Jan.24th.
Answered by Z Wu from UK | Oct. 17, 2019 09:46
00Reply


Instead of, your daughter should visit you during CNY.
Answered by Jo from SINGAPORE | Oct. 17, 2019 18:39
00Reply


Thank you for your advise.
Asked by Efa from MALAYSIA | Oct. 05, 2019 06:07Reply
if i want to travel area guangzhou/guilin during mid of feb2020 is possible with train/buses?
Answers (3)
Answered by Madelyn from UKRAINE | Oct. 07, 2019 19:28
00Reply


Yes, generally speaking, the public transportation will operate during that period of time. Don't worry.
Answered by Zeus from PAKISTAN | Nov. 22, 2019 00:51
00Reply


Public transport is always crowded during the Spring Festival; make sure you book your tickets a month prior;
Answered by Vincent from CHINA | Dec. 03, 2019 03:45
00Reply


Don't worry, the most rush time for transportation is 3~5 days before Spring festival and also 3~5 days after Spring festival, because those time people need to go back home town and get back to living place. And public transportation never stop operation during that time. The best way to travel in China is by train, chip and comfortable. Just during Spring festival, it may not be easy to by some hot lines of train, especially Beijing or Shanghai. Other places are fine.
Asked by Karen from USA | Aug. 13, 2019 16:03Reply
How’s the weather in Yangshuo in mid Feb? Can you still hike, bike and raft?
My husband and I will be in Hengyang in Feb for our son’s wedding and would like to travel to Guilin/Yangshuo for a few days after. Any tips and words of experience are welcome. Thanks!
Answers (1)
Answered by Chloe from UKRAINE | Aug. 14, 2019 20:01
00Reply


According to the previous weather statistics, the temperature may range from 10C to 15C during that period of time. It will be cool and comfortable. You can still hike, bike and raft. Have a nice journey!
Asked by Julia from GERMANY | Feb. 03, 2019 09:07Reply
Museums open during CNY?
Hello, are the Shanghai Museums (Science Museum, Natural History Museum etc) Open to public during Chinese New Year Holiday (3.-10. Feb.)?
Answers (1)
Answered by Suzy | Feb. 05, 2019 05:55
00Reply


Yes
Ask a Question
Question Summary (100 characters)
Details (optional) (2,000 characters)