Chinese New Year (Dates, Traditions, Greetings, Zodiac Signs)

Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, is the most important festival in China. Chinese people call it "Chunjie (春节chun jie)". It is time for the family reunion. With a 7-day public holiday, all Chinese people would try their best to go back home no matter how far they live.

The 2021 Chinese New Year celebration period lasts from Feb. 11th (Chinese New Year's Eve) to Feb. 26th (the Lantern Festival). Chinese New Year in 2021 falls on February 12th, being the start of the Year of the Ox. The Spring Festival holiday will from Feb. 11 to Feb. 17 in 2021.

Chinese New Year Facts

  • Chinese Name: 春节 (chūn jié)
  • English Names: Spring Festival or Lunar New Year
  • Date in 2021: Friday, Feb. 12th
  • Holiday in 2021: 7 days (Feb. 11-17)
  • Zodiac Sign in 2021: ox
  • Lucky Color: red
  • Lucky Food: nian gao, tang yuan, dumpling, fish……
  • Celebrations: New Year decorations, New Year's Eve dinner, fireworks, red envelopes......

When is the Chinese New Year?

The Chinese New Year is based on the lunar calendar which is totally different from the Gregorian calendar. Therefore, the Chinese New Year date is different every year.

The Chinese New Year day begins officially on the first of the first lunar month (usually in late January or early February). Chinese New Year celebrations 16 days, from the Lunar New Year's Eve to the 15th day of the first lunar month (the Lantern Festival).

As a public holiday, however, Chinese people only get 7 days off from work, from February 11th to 17th in 2021. Click Chinese New Year Dates to learn when the Chinese start their Chinese New Year holidays every year.

Year Date Day Chinese Zodiac Sign
2020 January 25th Saturday Rat
2021 February 12th Friday Ox
2022 February 1st Tuesday Tiger
2023 January 22nd Wednesday Rabbit
2024 February 10th Saturday Dragon
2025 January 29th Wednesday Snake

Chinese New Year Animal (Year of the Ox)

Known as Sheng Xiao (生肖sheng xiào), the Chinese Zodiac consists of the 12 animal signs designated to the 12 earthly branches in China, including Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig.

Each of the animal signs is related to the Chinese lunar calendar- which means, the year starts from the first of the first lunar month (usually in late January or early February) instead of Jan 1st, based on a twelve-year cycle.

chinese zodiac years

2021 is the Year of the Ox! Find out your Chinese New Year horoscope from our Chinese Zodiac pages.

Why is it called the Spring Festival?

There is an old saying in China, "The whole year's work depends on a good start in spring." (一年之计在于春 yī nián zhī jì zài yú chūn).

Chinese people believe that spring, the beginning of the year, is the most important time of the whole year. Since Chinese New Year usually falls after the first of twenty-four solar term "The Beginning of Spring" (立春 lì chūn), it is also called the Spring Festival which marks the end of cold winter.

The Spring Festival also marks the end of the old year on the lunar calendar and represents the desire for a new life.

Why Is the Chinese New Year Important?

What with integrating prayers, celebrations, and entertainment, Chinese New Year is a very important occasion for the Chinese nation. All Chinese people would try their best to go back home no matter how far they live.

Chinese New Year is a time to:

  • reunite the whole family and honor the ancestors
  • worship gods and pray for a bumper harvest year
  • get rid of the old and make way for the new
  • participate in all kinds of creativity and having fun……
traditional customs for chinese new year

To this day, apart from activities for worshiping gods, which are downplayed, the major activities and customs for Chinese New Year are well preserved and developed:

Click Chinese New Year Traditions for more details.

How to Celebrate the Chinese New Year?

Chinese New Year starts from the first of the first lunar month, but the celebrations usually begin from the 23rd or 24th day of the last lunar month (小年xiǎo nián) to the 15th day of the first lunar month (the Lantern Festival).

The infographic below shows how Chinese people celebrate Chinese New Year day-by-day.

Chinese New Year Day-by-Day Celebrations

Click Chinese New Year Day-by-Day Celebrations for more details.

How to Say Happy Chinese New Year?

Chinese New Year greetings in Mandarin and Cantonese pronounce totally different, even though they share the same meanings and characters. There are three ways to say "Happy Chinese New Year" in Chinese:

English Chinese Characters In Mandarin In Cantonese
Happy New Year! 新年快乐! /sshin nyen kwhy ler/ (xīn nián kuài lè) /sen nin feye lor/ (san1 nin4 faai3 lok6)
新年好! /sshin nyen haoww/ (xīn nián hǎo) /sen nin haow/ (san1 nin4 hou2)
过年好! /gwor nyen haoww/ (guò nián hǎo) /gwor nin haow/ (gwo3 nin4 hou2)

Besides "Happy New Year", one of the most famous traditional greetings for Chinese New Year is "gung hay fat choy" (恭喜发财 gōng xǐ fā cái) which means wishing you get rich. We have an article introduce the Chinese New Year song - gung hay fat choy.

Chinese New Year Food

Chinese food is widely known for its variety and abundance. Among its thousands of dishes, there are some with symbolic meanings special for Chinese New Year such as fish (symbolizing surplus), chicken (symbolizing good luck), dumplings (symbolizing prosperity). Click Chinese New Year Dishes to know more lucky festive dishes!

Apart from enjoying traditional dishes at the New Year's Eve reunion dinner, Chinese New Year is also an excellent excuse for people to gorge on various desserts and snacks, which also have auspicious meanings. For example, nian gao symbolizes grow-up and longevity, tang yuan symbolizes happiness and reunion. Click Chinese New Year Desserts and Snacks to know more traditional food.

Making Tangyuan Making Tangyuan, aka Yuanxiao or Glutinous Rice Ball

Chinese New Year History

Chinese New Year has a history of over 4000 years. Its name changed several times, and the customs of the festival changed a lot with the development of history.

From the very beginning, the Spring Festival was only celebrated by the upper-class such as the royal family and rich people. During the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD), it became popular among ordinary people and the activities became richer and more interesting.

Chinese New Year History

Click Chinese New Year History to get more information.

Chinese New Year Superstitions

There are a lot of traditions of festivities for the Chinese New Year, stemming from ancient times, as well as rules and restrictions. People believe the start of the year affects the whole year. As the start of the new lunar year, the Spring Festival is a season of superstitions.

Though many people today may not believe the superstitions and taboos attached to the festival, these customs are still kept, with the hope for a happy and lucky new year. Here is a picture showing what you should not do on Chinese New Year:

Things you should not do during Chinese New Year

Click here for more details about Chinese New Year Taboos.

Travel during the Chinese New Year

Visiting China during the Chinese New Year period, you will see the streets filled with lanterns and Spring Festival rhymes and riddles, representing good luck, to show people's happiness. It is the best time to interact with local people and experience Chinese culture.

From jungle-covered mountains to modern metropolises, the festival brings all of China together and makes Chunyun the world's largest annual human migration. Do arrange your itinerary beforehand and make reservations for transportations and accommodations in advance. Train tickets will be sold out very quickly. Find more useful tips in our article Chinese New Year Travel Tips.

Feel free to contact us if you prefer a hassle-free tour during the Spring Festival. Our top travel advisor will give you more advice on planning the trip and our experienced tour guide will adjust the itinerary for optimizing the tour arrangement based on the traffic, weather, and crowded status to make sure you have the best experience.

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