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Chinese New Year

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Chinese New Year 2011 in Southeast China on February 3, 2011

The Chinese New Year, also called the Spring Festival, is the most important holiday for ethnic Chinese people all around the world. The Chinese calendar and dates are traditionally based on changes of the moon, not the sun. The New Year starts at the beginning of this lunar (moon) calendar, and ends with Lantern Festival which is on the 15th day.

The Chinese New Year is celebrated for fifteen days. On the holiday's eve, families come together to eat a meal in the evening. This meal is called the reunion dinner. No matter how far away they are, Chinese people will try to visit with their families at least this one time of the year. not only enjoying the meal, but also watching a New Year Eve's gala with family members. Married daughters also return to visit their parents.

Early new year

Chinese people visit their grandparents, parents, friends and relatives during the first few days of the New Year. The older and married people give the younger ones red paper packets called hongbao in Mandarin (Lai See in Cantonese). This packet has money inside it. It is believed to bring luck.

Chinese people wear new clothes when they go on visits. This clothing is usually red in color. They also say special phrases to wish other people good luck when they see them.

They also exchange mandarin oranges for good luck.

Late new year

The last day of the New Year celebration is called the Lantern Festival, or the Yuanxiao. On this day, families cook dumplings made of sticky rice. They eat them in a sweet soup. There are also many beautiful lanterns that decorate the streets in China and Chinatowns. Traditionally, on this day, adults can choose a partner. Long ago in China, this would have been one of the few days when women of rich families were allowed to go outside their houses with their maids.


Animal Branch Dates More Dates
Rat 子 Zi February 19, 1996 February 7, 2008 January 25, 2020
Ox 丑 Chou February 7, 1997 January 26, 2009 February 14, 2021
Tiger 寅 Yin January 28, 1998 February 14, 2010 February 25, 2022
Rabbit 卯 Mao February 16, 1999 February 3, 2011 January 27, 2023
Dragon 辰 Chen February 5, 2000 January 23, 2012 February 14, 2024
Snake 巳 Si January 24, 2001 February 10, 2013 January 19, 2025
Horse 午 Wu February 12, 2002 January 31, 2014 February 21, 2026
Goat 未 Wei February 1, 2003 February 19, 2015 February 26, 2027
Monkey 申 Shen January 22, 2004 February 8, 2016 January 14, 2028
Rooster 酉 You February 9, 2005 January 28, 2017 February 2, 2029
Dog 戌 Xu January 29, 2006 February 16, 2018 February 17, 2030
Pig 亥 Hai February 18, 2007 February 5, 2019 January 20, 2031

Chinese New Year starts on the first day of the new year that has a new moon. It ends on the Lantern Festival 14 days later. This occurs around the time of the full moon as each complete moon cycle is about 29.53 days long. In the Gregorian calendar used in other countries, Chinese New Year falls on different dates each year. It is usually between January 21 and February 20. This means that the holiday usually starts on the second (sometimes the third) new moon after the winter solstice.

Animal zodiacs

The dates for the Spring Festival from 1996 to 2019 (in the Gregorian calendar) are at the right. The list also includes the year's animal zodiac and its earthly branch. The names of the earthly branches have no English translations. They are not Chinese translations of the animals. The calendar has a 12-year cycle of the animal zodiac and a 10-year cycle of heavenly stems. Each of the ten heavenly stems is associated with one of the five elements of Chinese astrology. These elements are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. The elements are changed every two years and a yin and yang association changes every year. The elements are named: Yang Wood, Yin Wood, Yang Fire, Yin Fire, and so on. These two cycles create a combined cycle that repeats every 60 years. For example, 1936 was the year of the Yang Fire Rat. 60 years later, 1996 was the next year of the Yang Fire Rat.


Some people had problems with the difference between the Chinese birth-year and the Gregorian birth-year. Because the Chinese New Year starts in late January or early February, the Chinese year begins several weeks after it begins in the Gregorian calendar. If a person is born in early January, their Chinese birth-year is the last Gregorian year, not the current one. This causes problems because many people think of the years as the same. For example, 1989 was the year of the Snake. The year 1990 was the year of the Horse. It began on 26 January 1990. This means that anyone born from January 1 to January 25, 1990 was actually born in the year of the Snake not the year of the Horse.