• 新年快乐 新年快樂

Chinese New Year is happening now, and I’ve gathered some facts and curiosities about all you need to know about these incredible celebrations!

The Chinese New Year has been celebrated for over 3000 years, and is also known as the Spring Festival. But these celebrations are not exclusively celebrated by the Chinese – other countries also celebrate this special date: Hong Kong, Macau, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, South Korea, Malaysia, North Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Brunei join the celebrations, making this the largest festival in the World, with a whopping 2 billion people celebrating the Chinese New Year! Adding up with the large communities of Chinese nationals living in major cities like New York, London, Sydney, and other cities all around the world, it’s fair to say the whole planet will be celebrating this week.

So, if you’re curious about what happens during these festivities, I’ve compiled some of the do’s and don’ts, the curiosities and the formalities, and welcome you to joint the World’s Largest Party!

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Tianmen Mountain
When is the Chinese New Year?

The Chinese New Year depends on the Lunar Calendar. It can be any date, from the 1st January to the full moon. This year (2019), the Chinese New Year falls on the 5th February.

Whereas most of the countries have adopted the Gregorian calendar, and use it for all their festivities as well, the Lunar Calendar still is really important in China. so important, that most people still celebrate their birthdays and age according to it!

Usually, the Chinese New Year is celebrated on the second new moon after the Winter solstice, which in 2019 is the 5th February. It is then followed by 16 days of festivities, until the Lantern Festival, until the next full moon. On that night, people will put up lanterns for decoration, let loose to fly and float them on rivers.

Nian (年), the Monster

Back in the day, the Spring Festival was a ceremonial day to pray to the Gods for a good harvest season. But legend has it, that a monster called Nian (年) would come on New Year’s night, and all people would hide in their homes. But a brave boy decided to defeat the monster, and on that night, he fought the monster using firecrackers. To celebrate his victory over Nian, the following day everybody decided to set off more fireworks, and that’s how the fireworks became so popular for this season.

A beautiful tradition early in time, but a massive environmental nowadays: it is estimated that cities like Beijing see a massive 15 times more pollution levels this time of the year, and that’s largely because of the fireworks. Since 2016, fireworks have been forbidden in Shanghai, and other cities are set to follow.

Chinese Zodiac

Another curiosity about the Lunar Calendar is the horoscope. The Chinese have 12 zodiac animals on their horoscope: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig – 2019 is the year of the Pig. However, unlike the “traditional” zodiac, each animal represents a year, not a month. So your zodiac animal is decided by your birth year, and it’s called your benming year (本命年—běn mìng nián).

Each 12 years, we go back to same zodiac animal, so each 12th year cycle, is the unluckiest for you. This is because the Chinese believe that children can easily be taken by demons. And your benming year is your “rebirth” year. So, for each benming year, you should protect yourself by wearing red clothes, as well as covering your home in red. Many people will wear red underwear all year round. Accessories, insoles and other details are also widely worn.

And because in China you grow one year older on the Chinese New Year, you will have your “real” age (实岁 – shí suì) and the “New Year” nominal age (虚岁 – xū suì). So, when you ask some one how old are they, you can also ask their 实岁 (shí suì – real age) and 虚岁 (xū suì – nominal age).

chinese zodiac

Chinese are known for being very supersticious, and this time of the year is filled with specific do’s and don’ts!

Washing things (your hair, your clothes, or even your house) is a big no-no on the first day of the Lunar Calendar. It’s seen as “washing one’s fortune away”.

Things one should do, for good luck:

  • give money or gifts in lucky numbers, wrapped in red packaging and accompanied with lucky greetings;
  • eat lucky foods (see below), specially if it’s carp or catfish – and leave some for New Year’s Day!
  • set of lots and lots of red firecrackers to scare away those evil spirits and bring you good luck.

Things one should not do, that could bring bad luck:

  • avoid accidents, and do not visit a hospital.
  • crying on these dates is also a bad omen.
  • don’t hand out gifts wrapped in the wrong colours, or carrying the wrong messages.
  • don’t say anything inauspicious
  • don’t clean!

Another thing is the colours one wears: black and white are bad omens, as these are the colours traditionally worn for funerals and mournings. Red and other colourful clothes are the best options for this time of the year, as it symbolises good fortune!


Red, red, R E D everywhere!! You’ll see it on the houses, the clothings, the envelopes. Red is the official New Year’s colour, as it is believed to bring you good fortune and scare away the bad spirits. Banks and official buildings will also decorate everything red, with images of prosperity.

Another thing that should be red, is the envelopes passed on from business owners to their employees, from older to older to youth, from leaders to their underlinings. This is the New Year’s bonus, and if you’re to receive one, make sure you accept it with both hands, and open it in private. Inside, only new notes are to be expected: old and wrinkled cash is a sign of laziness.

chinese lanterns
New Year

In China, it’s still frowned upon if at 30 you are still single. Because of this, it’s quite common that during the Chinese New Year, when people go back to their parents for the festivities, they rent-a-partner. It’s easy to hire someone to pretend to be your significant other, so your family won’t enquire about your relationship status. Rent-a-partners usually start at 100 RMB per day, something like €12. People don’t do this as an individual initiative, there are actually specialised websites and agencies providing this kind of service in China.

Special Foods

Besides the catfish and carp I’ve mentioned above, there are several desserts that are highly popular this time of the year, such as the tangyuan – on a direct translation, it means “soup balls”, but phonetically it sounds like tuanyuan, which means “reunion”. For this reason, it became very popular during the Chinese New Year.

Other popular desserts are the nian gao rice cakes, which symbolise success, or fa gao, a sponge cake, that people dye in red and other festive colours. The fa is the same as in fa cai (发财), which means “to get rich.” Everybody wants that 😉

The World's Largest Party

As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, this festival moves more than 2 billion people in the whole world. For this reason, it’s the largest human migration every year, during the 15 days this festival is celebrated. Within China alone, there’s an estimated 3 billion trips by car, train or plane, since about 200 million residents have to travel long distances this season to gather with their relatives, as well as tens of millions of people in other countries as well.

The Chinese New Year is the largest annual human migration in the world, hence the World’s Largest Party also.



You can come and explore China with me!
I lead tours on the Transiberian, and can help you plan your ongoing trip in China as well. Interested?

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