Chinese New Year 2020: The Year of the Rat

Why does the Chinese New Year start at a different time?

January 21, 2020
Chinese red lantern
Wong Yu Liang/ShutterStock

The Chinese New Year—also referred to as the Spring Festival and the Lunar New Year globally—lands on Saturday, January 25, 2020. Why does the Chinese New Year start at a different time than ours? How is this important holiday celebrated? What does the Year of the Rat symbolize?

When Is Chinese New Year?

Chinese New Year begins on the date(in China) of the second new Moon after the winter solstice

This can occur between January 21 and February 20.  In 2020, the new Moon occurs on Saturday, January 25.

Year Chinese New Year Zodiac Sign
2020 Saturday, January 25 Rat
2021 Saturday, February 12 Ox
2022 Tuesday, February 1 Tiger

(Note: In North American time zones, the new Moon will actually occur one day prior, on January 24.)

Why Do the Chinese Have a Different New Year?

The Chinese Calendar is a lunisolar calendar, which means that it’s based on astronomical observations of the Sun’s longitude and the Moon’s phases. This ancient calendar dates back to 14th century BCE (whereas the Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1582). The lunisolar calendar shares some similarities with the Jewish calendar.

As the Chinese calendar defines the lunar month with winter solstice as the 11th month, this means that Chinese New Year usually falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice.

Just like New Year according to the Gregorian calendar (January 1), Chinese New Year celebrations start on the night before the first day of the new year. 

(Note: China follows the Gregorian calendar for daily business but still follows the Chinese calendar for important festivals, auspicious dates such as wedding dates, and the Moon phases.) 

Who Celebrates Lunar New Year?

The Chinese New Year is the most important and longest of all Asian festivals, marked by millions of people round the world, often called Spring Festival or Lunar New Year.

It’s not only China that celebrates the start of a new lunar year around this time. A number of other countries in Asia, including Vietnam, Korea, Japan, and the Philippines, hold their own new year celebrations. (Occasionally, the date celebrated may differ by one day or even one moon cycle due to time zones and other factors.)

How is Lunar New Year Celebrated?

As with many winter solstice celebrates, light is brought to darkness with fireworks. Man-made paper lanterns are hung by the hundreds in public areas, bringing good luck to the new year.

There are dragon dances, performances, and festival parades with music and acrobatics. The festivities continue for two weeks, finishing with a special lantern festival, which signals the end of the New Year celebration period.

Chinese Zodiac

Of course, much delicious food is made and served! For the New Year, it’s traditional to serve long noodles, symbolizing a long life. See our recipe for Longevity Noodles.

new-year-noodles.jpg

Another popular recipe for New Year is Chinese Dumplings, symbolizing good luck and wealth. Families wrap them up and eat them as the clock strikes midnight.

“Good Luck” is also a common theme of the New Year. Many children receive “lucky money” in red envelopes. Sometimes offerings are made to temples. 

People clean their homes and open their door to let good luck enter. According to tradition, no one should pick up a broom, in case you sweep the good luck for the New Year out of the door!

What is the Animal for Chinese New Year?

In 2020, we ring in the Year of the Rat, one of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. The animal designations of the zodiac follow a 12-year cycle and are always used in the same sequence.

Those born in the Year of the Rat are said to be ambitious and sincere, and to be generous with money.

You may thing, “Ugh! A rat!” However, the rat is the first sign in the Zodiac and is also considered very clever, innovative, hardworking, very active, and energetic!Rat

How the Chinese Zodiac Works

The traditional Chinese lunisolar year has 12 months and 353 to 355 days, or during a leap year, 13 months and 383 to 385 days.

Therefore, the Chinese year usually begins several weeks into the western 365-day year (usually between January 21 and February 20), not on January 1 of the Gregorian calendar.

As is ancient tradition, the Chinese zodiac attaches animal signs to each lunar year in a cycle of 12 years. The animal designation changes at the start of the New Year.

A Deeper Look

On a broader scale, the Chinese lunisolar calendar counts its years according to the stem-branch system, which is a 60-year rotating name system also known as the Chinese sexagenary cycle. By this, a year’s name actually contains two parts: the celestial stem and the terrestrial branch.

  • The celestial, or heavenly stem, is taken from a rotating list of 10 terms concerning the yin/yang forms of five elements.
  • The Stem (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water): jia, yi, bing, ding, wu, ji, geng, xin, ren, and gui

Stem/Element

jia = yang wood
yi = yin wood
bing = yang fire
ding = yin fire
wu = yang earth
ji = yin earth
geng = yang metal
xin = yin metal
ren = yang water
gui = yin water

  • The terrestrial, or earthly, branch is taken from a rotating list of the 12 animal names of the Chinese zodiac. 

Branch/Animal

zi = rat
chou = ox
yin = tiger
mao = rabbit
chen = dragon
si = snake
wu = horse
wei = sheep/goat
shen = monkey
you = rooster
xu = dog
hai - boar/pig

So, putting the stem and branch terms together, the first year in a 60-year cycle is called jia-zi (Year of the Rat) as jia is the celestial stem and zi (rat) is the terrestrial branch. The next year is yi-chou (Year of the Ox), and so on. The 11th year is jia-xu, etc., until a new cycle starts over with jia-zi.

Which Chinese Zodiac Sign Are You?

Below are the 12 animal designations of the Chinese zodiac. (Please note: If you were born before the Chinese New Year began for the year listed, then you were born under the previous Chinese zodiac sign. For example, the Chinese New Year began on January 28 in 2017; from that date onward, the sign is the Rooster. For those born between January 1 and January 27, 2017, the sign is the Monkey.):

Rat (Zi)

Ambitious and sincere, you can be generous with your money. Compatible with the dragon and the monkey. Your opposite is the horse.

1900, 1912, 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020

Ox or Buffalo (Chou)

A leader, you are bright, patient, and cheerful. Compatible with the snake and the rooster. Your opposite is the sheep.

1901, 1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021

Tiger (Yin)

Forthright and sensitive, you possess great courage. You have the ability to be a strong leader capable of great sympathy. Compatible with the horse and the dog. Your opposite is the monkey.

1902, 1914, 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022

Rabbit or Hare (Mao)

Talented and affectionate, you are a seeker of tranquility. Compatible with the sheep and the pig. Your opposite is the rooster.

1903, 1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023

Dragon (Chen)

Robust and passionate, your life is filled with complexity. Compatible with the monkey and the rat. Your opposite is the dog.

1904, 1916, 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024

Snake (Si)

Strong-willed and intense, you display great wisdom. Compatible with the rooster and the ox. Your opposite is the pig.

1905, 1917, 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025

Horse (Wu)

Physically attractive and popular, you like the company of others. Compatible with the tiger and the dog. Your opposite is the rat.

1906, 1918, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026

Sheep or Goat (Wei)

Aesthetic and stylish, you enjoy being a private person. Compatible with the pig and the rabbit. Your opposite is the ox.

1907, 1919, 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027

Monkey (Shen)

Persuasive, skillful, and intelligent, you strive to excel. Compatible with the dragon and the rat. Your opposite is the tiger.

1908, 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028

Rooster (You)

Seeking wisdom and truth, you have a pioneering spirit. Compatible with the snake and the ox. Your opposite is the rabbit.

1909, 1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029

Dog (Xu)

Generous and loyal, you have the ability to work well with others. Compatible with the horse and the tiger. Your opposite is the dragon.

1910, 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030

Pig or Boar (Hai)

Gallant and noble, your friends will remain at your side. Compatible with the rabbit and the sheep. Your opposite is the snake.

1911, 1923, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2031

What’s your Chinese zodiac sign? Let us know in the comments!

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Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Wedding date Pacific Standard Time in California

Hi!

Can you help us find a great wedding date for my sister in Jan-March 2021. We live in California so do we have to shift the dates by one day?

She is Sheep and he is ox. It will probably be ox year by then. His birthday is 9/29/85, hers is 2/24/91. I've tried to compare 3 sources but confused. I think many dates clash with sheep.

I saw this online but I don't know what it means:
"The following should be considered:
The wedding year and date shall not conflict with the Marriage Palace of both sides;
The wedding date shall not clash the eight characters of both sides' horoscope;
In the case of meeting the above conditions, the wedding date shall fall upon a day with Yue De or Tian De as far as possible;
If the eight characters of the bride and the bridegroom clash with each other, a date which can contain or control the evil spirits shall be selected as far as possible, so as to dissolve the conflict."

Thank you so much in advance! Happy new year!

Jen

Sign

I'm a Tiger, and my wife is the Sheep.

Metal Rat

Metal Rat

Zodiac sign

I am the Tiger and coincidentally my husband is the Monkey

April, 1952

I believe I'm a water dragon. My Mom was a fire dragon.

I would like to thank you for

I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well.
------

My Chinese zodiac sign is

My Chinese zodiac sign is sheep 1979. Could you tell me what my indian zodiac sign is and also western zodiac sign are. Thanks.

Actually part of the

Actually part of the information is incorrect it is not a 12 year cycle rather it is 5 12 year cycles. For a total of a 60 year cycle.

Each of the 12 year cycles follow an element... Metal, water, wood, fire and earth.

Each of the 12 signs also have a element given directly too it.
Metal = Monkey & Rooster
Earth = Ox, Sheep & Dog
Fire = Snake & Horse
Wood = Tiger, Rabbit & Dragon
Water = Rat & Pig

Then, each animal sign is further divided into the five elements, depending on the year that the sign occurs. Using this years sign as and example.
•Metal Horse (1930, 1990,)
•Earth Horse (1918, 1978)
•Fire Horse (1966, 2026)
•Wood Horse (1954, 2014)
•Water Horse (1942, 2002)

Each of the five elements occurs within each animal sign occurs once every 12 years. Therefore, each specific animal-element combination – e.g. the Wood Horse – repeats once every 60 years.

A person’s characteristics are determined both by the ruling element of their sign as well as the element of that particular year that they are born. E.g. A Water Rooster will be controlled by both Water and Metal.

And each of the element influences the traits of the actual sign whereas the wood sign is the least effective. 'The most grounded of the Horses' and the fire sign as the name reflect the most ratical 'Led mostly by his heart and his passions, this is the wildest and most volatile of Horses'.

Google it for more info and have fun. Try googling the east meets west astrology and see how one influences the other!

Thank you for your feedback!

The Editors's picture

Thank you for your feedback! We have updated the article to make it clear that the rotating list of 12 animal names of the Chinese zodiac is part of a larger 60-year rotating name system used by the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar.

Chinese Zodiac

You got my sign and year wrong. 1953 should be Dragon, not Snake. I double checked this. Contact Suzanne White.
She is an expert on Astrology. See her work on Amazon. And she is on FB.

1953 Chinese zodiac signs

The Editors's picture

The Chinese lunisolar calendar begins later than the Gregorian calendar. So, in any one year, Gregorian time, there will be two possible Chinese zodiac signs, depending on when one was born. In 1953, the Chinese New Year began on February 14 (according to the Gregorian calendar); for that Chinese calendar year, the sign was the Snake. However, those born before February 14 in 1953 would still be in the previous Chinese year, which was the Dragon. (So in 1953, January 1 through February 13 = Dragon.) Thank you for bringing this to our attention; we will revise our article so that this is clearer.

Double Cat sign.

Double Cat sign.
Not only am I a tiger by virtue of the Chinese zodiac, but I'm also a Leo according to the western Zodiac. No wonder I get along so well with kitty cats! LOL!!

Im year of the rooster Im

Im year of the rooster Im happy because IM not a year of a dog and pig because the year of the dog and pig are a bad luck the dragon.snake and horse are a good luck

Nice summary of the Chinese

Nice summary of the Chinese Zodiac, but I think you need to take into account the time of birth, isn't it?

Here they say that with that one can calculate the ascendant and also the chinese natal chart:

http://www.lascartasdelavida.c...

It seems pretty complex anyway...

Just as in western astrology,

The Editors's picture

Just as in western astrology, with Chinese astrology, people can fine-tune it as much as they would like, depending on their goal. For general interest, many people just take into account the year they were born, and the animal sign associated with it (the terrestial branch); in this case, the chart we provide is fine (see note at top of page about the Chinese lunisolar calendar vs. Gregorian). Others prefer to also consider other individual aspects, such as the 5 celestial stems and the Yin/Yang cycle at the time they were born. As you say, it can become complex. If one is interested in a full individual assessment, s/he might consider consulting a professional in Chinese astrology.

social studies

I find this very interesting to know ☺

Here's a twist!!! Eastern

Here's a twist!!! Eastern zodiac-Dragon, Western zodiac-scales/scorpion, Native American-Raven, Celtic-Butterfly. If you read each description you will find a part of me!! Quite interesting reading and those who know me well reap the benefits!!

I have never quite trusted

I have never quite trusted these western calendar dates. I was born during the first few days of January, 1955 - but I have always wondered if that did not actually put me at the end of the year of the Horse.

You are correct you are a

You are correct you are a wood horse were born between February 3, 1954 and January 23, 1955 in the Chinese Zodiac sign. Unlike Western astrology the Chinese Zodiac does not follow the Gregorian calender rather the lunar calender which starts at varying dates in the first few weeks of each year. So anyone born within the first several weeks of a year should do a search to find when the exact date of that year started.

I am a Rabbit person Western

I am a Rabbit person Western Zodiac the sign of the Scales and Native American Raven

im the tiger i compatible

im the tiger i compatible with someone loyal and attractive

I am a pig in the Chinese

I am a pig in the Chinese Zodiac. I was born January 13th, 1947. My opposite is the snake, and I am compatible with the rabbit and the sheep. In the American Zodiac I am a goat or ram.

How can you be the goat or

How can you be the goat or ram? Goat is Capricorn and Ram is Aries. You can only be one or the other.