Chinese New Year is the most ceremonious traditional festival in China, as well as an indispensable part of Chinese culture. It is a special celebration for every Chinese person throughout the world. On this page we list 10 fun facts you might not have known about Chinese New Year.
1. Chinese New Year has no fixed date!
The date of Chinese New Year varies from year to year because the Chinese lunar calendar is different from the Western Gregorian calendar; but it generally lands between January 21 and February 21.
Unless the lunar calendar is artificially adjusted, February 21, 2319 will be “the latest Spring Festival in history”, after the former latest one on February 20 in 1920 and 1985. Check the Chinese New Year Calendar from 2020 to 2043.
2. It is actually known in China as Spring Festival.
There is an old saying in China, “a year’s planning starts with spring”.
Chinese people believe that spring, the beginning of the year, is the most important time of the whole year, and Chinese New Year usually falls after the first solar term “The Beginning of Spring” (Li Chun), hence the name.
- The festival also marks the end of the coldest days in China.
3. The Chinese also call it “Passing the New Year”.
“Passing the New Year” is “Guo Nian” (过年, Nian means year) in Chinese. According to Chinese legend, the celebration of Spring Festival in ancient times was a battle to get rid of the monster Nian, a fierce big-horned beast, as a result of which guo nian also means “driving away the beast.
Therefore, guò nián hǎo (过年好, Happy New Year) is the most popular Chinese New Year greeting in China.
4. It starts a new zodiac animal’s year.
The Chinese zodiac has a 12-year cycle of animal years, beginning with every Chinese New Year. Each of the 12 years is named after an animal : Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. For instance, 2020 will be the Year of the Rat.
5. Lucky money didn’t used to be money.
In olden days, lucky money was the copper coins wrapped in a red envelope to ward off evil spirits . Legend has it that in ancient years there was a demon named “祟 suì”, which came out to harm sleeping children on Lunar New Year’s Eve, and lucky money was used to scare it away. Click Chinese Red Pocket to know more about this story.
6. Billions of red envelopes are given out.
Nowadays, red envelopes with cash, also called lucky money, are distributed during Chinese New Year by older to younger, bosses to employees, and leaders to underlings, with best wishes .
7. It boasts the longest Chinese holiday.
Chinese New Year usually lasts 16 days, from New Year’s Eve to the 15th day of the New Year (the Lantern Festival). But the celebrations actually start from the 23rd or 24th day of the last lunar month, also called “xiǎo nián”小年 (Little Year) in Chinese.
8. The whole country on the move.
There are 3.7 billion passenger-journeys during chunyun 春运, or the Spring Festival Travel Season, a period of busy passenger transportation . It usually begins 15 days before lunar New Year’s Eve, and lasts a total of 40 days.
9. The world’s largest usage of fireworks.
More fireworks and firecrackers are set off on lunar New Year’s Eve and on the morning of the first day of Spring Festival, than any other day in any other country in the world, to drive away evil spirits and celebrate the coming year.
Post-Script: In the Early Days
- 1. The earliest Spring Festival ceremony is said to have emerged in primitive society. The custom was passed down after the establishment of the Xia dynasty (2070 – 1600 BC).
- 2. The earliest chunlian (春联, Spring Festival couplet ) was tao fu. People in the Warring States period (475 – 221 BC) wrote the names of two gods who can control evil spirits on two pieces of peach wood, named “tao fu”. By the Song dynasty (960 – 1279 A D), tao fu was gradually replaced by two pieces of red paper and evolved into today’s couplets at Spring Festival.
- 3. The earliest firecrackers were exploding bamboo, and emerged during the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), when there was no gunpowder or paper. The firecrackers at the time were created by putting bamboo in the fire to make a popping sound, hence the name “bao zhu” (exploding bamboo爆竹) in Chinese.
- 4. The earliest gunpowder firecracker was made by Li Tian of the Tang dynasty (618–907), who put gunpowder into a bamboo tube.
- 5. The earliest New Year’s greeting card was made by bamboo during the Han dynasty (206 BC–220 AD).
- 6. The earliest lucky money showed up in the imperial palace of the Tang dynasty, when it was occupied by the Emperor Xuanzong of Tang (742 – 756).
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