In China, people engage in huge treks across the country to be home in time for the celebrations which can last for days on end. Children look forward to it particularly, knowing it will likely bring them plenty of precious little red envelopes filled with money.
Here’s everything you need to know about Chinese New Year.
You will see red everywhere when Chinese New Year comes around. Picture: AFP
When is Chinese New Year 2020?
In 2020, Chinese New Year will fall on Saturday 25 January – it will be the year of the rat.
This naming tradition comes from the animals of the Chinese zodiac, with each year being assigned one of the following animals – rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.
The animals are rotated in sequence based on a fable about them racing and the order in which they finished. It is thought that any year which falls under the sign a person was born under can hold bad luck for them.
Why is it also called the Lunar New Year?
While it is commonly referred to in the West as ‘Chinese New Year’, the date is also celebrated across Korea, Vietnam, Singapore and elsewhere. It could more accurately be termed the ‘Lunar New Year’.
This is because the traditional Chinese calendar which it is based on is measured by the position of the Moon, rather than by the Earth’s revolution around the Sun as it is in the Gregorian calendar. In China, the celebrations are usually termed the ‘Spring Festival’.
Chinese New Year is determined by the phases of the moon. Picture: Shutterstock
How does the Chinese calendar work?
Chinese New Year differs from the ‘standard’ western New Year’s Day because it is based on the traditional Chinese calendar rather than the Gregorian one.
This is in spite of the fact that the Gregorian calendar is now used in day to day life in China, as it is in most of the world. It was officially adopted there in 1912.
The Gregorian calendar is now almost ubiquitous across the globe, although a few nations (like Ethiopia, Nepal and Iran) still retain their own calendars instead.
The traditional Chinese calendar is based on a mixture of lunar and solar phenomenon - days still begin and end at midnight but months begin on the day of the full moon and years begin on the second new moon after the winter solstice. This places the New Year as beginning on the day of the first new moon that falls between 21 January and 20 February.
The traditional Chinese calendar is still often used to help pick the dates for weddings, funerals and the like, with certain days believed to be more auspicious than others.
How is New Year celebrated in China?
Fireworks are a huge part of Chinese New Year celebrations, with more rockets set off on that night than on any other night of the year. However, over 500 cities in China have actually now either restricted or outright banned fireworks due to safety concerns and air pollution, but they remain an immensely popular part of the New Year’s celebrations.
The tradition comes from a folk tale about a monster named Nian who was scared away using firecrackers. The colour red was also an important tool in defeating the monster, hence why everything will be decorated red during the New Year period.
The New Year is also seen as a time for honouring your gods and ancestors in the hope of bringing good fortune for the year to come. There are all kinds of taboos which must be avoided to prevent bad fortune, such as showering on New Year’s day or using words like ‘illness’ and ‘death’.
Above all else, though, New Year is a time to be spent with family. As people flock home to spend the holiday with their relatives, the largest human migration of the year takes place - known as ‘chunyun’ or ‘spring migration’.
Children are given red envelopes filled with money from many of their older relatives in a gesture which is also designed to transfer good fortune between them. They can also be given between employers and employees, as well as between friends.
In more recent times, it has become fashionable to give digital red envelopes instead of physical ones. This has created an odd phenomenon known as ‘snatching red pockets’ in which people send one into a group chat and watch their friends scrap it out.
Thanks to the pressure, many younger people feel to impress their parents and grandparents. In fact, an industry has been created as actors are hired to pose as boyfriends and girlfriends for embarrassed singles over the holiday season.
In Chinese, the common greeting at New Year is ‘xin nian kuai le’ which means ‘Happy New Year’. Those in Hong Kong and other Cantonese-speaking parts of the world tend to go with ‘gong hei fat choy’ which translates to ‘congratulations on the fortune’.
London's Chinese New Year party is a huge event. Picture: Justin Tallis/ AFPThe Chinese Lunar New Year on February 16 ushered in the beginning of the Year of Dog and the beginning of spring. / AFP PHOTO / Justin TALLIS (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
How is it celebrated elsewhere?
Many South-East Asian countries see the Lunar New Year as the most important festive date on the calendar.
Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore all enjoy huge celebrations featuring street parties, parades and dance competitions.
It is also a public holiday in countries where much of the population is of Chinese descent, like the Philippines and Thailand. In the latter, the festivities usually involve a street party over which a member of the royal family presides.
Chinese New Year is now a global event, with parties scheduled in cities all around the world. Several major cities claim to boast the biggest New Year’s party outside of Asia – including London, Sydney and San Francisco – but no one knows for sure which claim is true.
Sydney’s street parade draws in over 100,000 people each year while San Francisco’s, which is one of the oldest on record, regularly draws over 500,000 plus a TV audience of millions.
London’s celebration, which takes place across Chinatown and Trafalgar Square, is thought to attract a similar number each year. New York made the date a public holiday in 2015.
This article originally appeared on our sister site, The i.