What to Know About Chinese New Year  

Ryan Heuchert, Staff Writer

The month of February is right around the corner, signaling the start of Chinese New Year. Junior Hope Lee says, “Chinese New Year is like other traditional holidays because the holiday celebrates the importance of culture.” The celebration consists of fun activities, but also stories, superstitions and an array of unique traditions. 

When is Chinese New Year? 

Chinese New Year is also known as Lunar New Year because the holiday begins with the first new moon of the year according to the lunar calendar. The lunar calendar follows the phases of the moon, which results in the calendar having 11 fewer days than the Gregorian calendar, which is the standard one used in places like the United States and Western Europe. Although the holiday technically lasts 15 days, only seven of the days are treated as a public holiday. In 2023, Chinese New Year will take place from Jan. 22 to Feb. 5. 

History of Chinese New Year 

The origins of Chinese New Year are believed to come from Ancient China. The History Channel says, “Chinese New Year is thought to date back to the Shang Dynasty in the 14th century B.C. Under Emperor Wu of Han (140–87 B.C.), the tradition of carrying out rituals on the first day of the Chinese calendar year began.” China would see a pause in the celebration of Chinese New Year during the 20th century. The History Channel says, “Under… Mao Zedong, the government forbade celebration of the traditional Chinese New Year and followed the Gregorian calendar…. In 1996, China instituted a weeklong vacation during the holiday—now officially called Spring Festival—giving people the opportunity to travel home and to celebrate the new year.” 

In addition, the Chinese also link the origins of the holiday to an ancient legend. China Highlights says, “Legend states that the Chinese New Year stemmed from an ancient battle against the Nian, a terrifying beast that showed up every Lunar New Year’s Eve to eat people and livestock. To scare away the monster, people displayed red paper, burned bamboo, lit candles, and wore red clothes.” This story is the reason red is considered a good luck color in Chinese culture.  

Traditions and Superstitions 

There are many events that occur during the Chinese New Year. China Highlights says, “Dances are widely seen in China and Chinatowns in many Western countries during the Lunar New Year period. They are performed to bring prosperity and good luck for the upcoming year or event.” The History Channel adds, “The holiday concludes with the Lantern Festival, which is celebrated on the last day of New Year’s festivities. Parades, dances, games, and fireworks mark the finale of the holiday.”  

Susie Velie, my grandma who was born and raised in Taiwan, explains one of the most important traditions that take place during Chinese New Year is the family dinner. During this event, a warm pot is placed at the center of the dinner table to represent comfort and family unity. Velie says, “We always had a big dinner. Each food represented something different; fish was prosperity, eggs were fertility and Bok choy was purity.” One of the most popular traditions of Chinese New Year is giving red colored envelopes to family members. Sophomore Sydney Chang says, “The envelopes usually have money. If you do not know the person however, the envelopes are filled with candy.”  

On top of all the traditions, Chinese people hold many superstitions. Velie says, “After the family dinner, you cannot touch any meat until the next day. This is a way of purifying the meat.” China Highlights says “Do not wash your clothes and hair (on New Year’s Day), otherwise you will ‘wash fortune away’.” Sweeping the house is also forbidden because of the same fear that good luck will be swept away. 

Chinese New Year in Other Countries 

China and Taiwan are not the only countries that celebrate Chinese New Year. As time has progressed, the celebration has stretched to almost every part of the world. Trip Savvy says, “London, San Francisco, and Sydney all claim to have the largest Chinese New Year celebrations outside of Asia….Big parades and enthusiastic celebrations happen in Vancouver, New York, and Los Angeles as well.Senior Emma Cheng says “Chinese New Year is popular in the United States. There are so many products sold to help with the celebration.” Other countries like Vietnam have their own version of Lunar New Year. Trip Savvy says, “The Lunar New Year is celebrated enthusiastically in Vietnam as Tet Nguyen Dan, or just simply Tết.” 

Chinese Zodiacs 

In Chinese culture, there are 12 different zodiac animals. Each year is represented by one of the animals. The zodiacs cycle, so each one is used once every 12 years. The History Channel says, “The 12 zodiac animals are the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.” Travel China Guide says, “Some people believe that the 12 Chinese zodiac animals are simplified from the 28 animals which represent 28 constellations in ancient Chinese astronomy, while some insist the zodiac’s relationship with Jupiter’s revolution period about 12 years.” One legend says the zodiac animals were chosen and placed after they competed to be palace guards for the Jade Emperor. The zodiac animals are important because they are said to give people their personalities. 2023 is the year of the rabbit. 

Chinese New Year is an interesting holiday because of how popular the celebration is worldwide.  In fact, some people encourage others to celebrate the holiday, even if they are not Chinese. Freshman Blake Chin says, “I think everyone should celebrate Chinese New Year. The holiday is so unique.” While the food, stories, superstitions and activities make this holiday worth noting, the best thing about Chinese New Year is how the traditions can be shared among people of various backgrounds. After all, the whole purpose of Chinese New Year is bringing family and friends together to celebrate another phase of the gift of life.