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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.):
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!