50 Interesting Facts about Chinese New Year

By Karin Lehnardt, Senior Writer
Published January 7, 2017
  • The start of Chinese New Year depends on the phases of the moon, or on a lunar or lunisolar calendar rather than on the Gregorian calendar. While the date changes yearly, it usually begins between January 21 and February 10.[4]
  • The Chinese New Year lands on the first day of the lunar month and continues for 15 days, until the moon is full. Each of the 15 days of the celebrations has a particular role, such as visiting family on one day or eating certain foods on another day.[2]
  • The phrase “Happy New Year” in Chinese is “Gung Hei Fat Choi” or “May You Have Good Fortune.”[6]
  • Every Chinese New Year, over a billion people board planes, trains, boats, buses, and cars. Known as Chunyan, it is the world’s largest annual human migration.[9]
  • The Chinese New Year is the most important and the longest celebration in the Chinese calendar.[6]
  • On the stroke of midnight on the Chinese New Year, every door and window in a Chinese house is opened to allow the old year to go out.[4]
  • During Chinese New Year, people usually wear new clothes from head to toe to symbolize a new beginning
  • The color red holds a significant place in Chinese New Year celebrations. Specifically, people wear red clothes, they decorate poems on red paper, and they give children “lucky” money in red envelopes. For the Chinese, red symbolizes fire, which traditionally was believed to prevent bad luck.[2]
  • The seventh day of the 15-day Chinese New Year is considered to be the birthday of ordinary or common men and is known as the Day of Men or Men Day. According to tradition, the goddess Nuwa created human beings from yellow clay.[6]
  • The Chinese New Year has been celebrated for more than 4,000 years. Farmers started the holiday in China to mark the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It was also a festival to honor ancestors as well as other holy or sacred beings.[2]
  • One Chinese mother, desperate for her son to return home for the Chinese New Year, paid for a full front-page ad in the Chinese Melbourne Daily saying, “Dad and Mom won’t ever force you to get married anymore. Come home for Chinese New Year! From your mom who loves you.”[8]
  • The Chinese New Year is celebrated in countries and territories that have high Chinese populations, such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Chinatowns in other cities.[6]
  • Each year of the Chinese 12-year cycle is named after an animal. Once the 12-year cycle is over, the animal list begins again. The 12 animals are rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep (ram/goat), monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. With Chinese New Year in 2015, it will be the start of the Year of the Sheep.[6]
  • A popular Chinese New Year treat is a candied crab apple on a stick.[2]
  • An important part of the Chinese New Year is the chuen-hop, or the “tray of togetherness.” This usually consists of eight compartments that are filled with special and symbolic food items that are offered to guests. These foods include kumquats for health, coconuts for togetherness, peanuts for a long life, and the longan fruit for “many good sons.” Additionally, for the Chinese, the number 8 symbolizes good luck.[2]
  • An old Chinese belief says that the second day of the new year is the birthday of all dogs and that people should be extra kind to dogs that day.[6]
  • The red color of the envelope symbolizes good luck
  • Instead of wrapped gifts that other nationalities give at their main holiday season, for Chinese New Year, children receive red envelopes full of money. The amount of money is usually an even number—but the amount cannot be divisible by four, because the number 4 means death.[6]
  • Before the Chinese New Year, it is common for people to buy new clothes or receive new haircuts as a way to make a fresh start.[2]
  • The Chinese New Year ends with the lantern festival, which takes place on the 15th (and last) day of the celebration. The lanterns are believed to light the way for the new year. The festival is also associated with guiding lost or mischievous spirits home while celebrating family relationships.[4]
  • It doesn’t matter when someone was actually born—on the Chinese New Year, everyone turns a year older.[6]
  • In China, it is becoming increasingly popular to hire a “fake” girlfriend or boyfriend to take home during the Chinese New Year to stave off parental pressure to get married. For as little as $20 or as much as $600 a day, college students rent themselves out.[5]
  • Chinese New Year is also called the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival.[2]
  • To prepare for Chinese New Year, people clean their houses and sweep floors to get rid of dirt, dust, and bad luck or huiqi, which are inauspicious “breaths” that have been collected over the old year. Cleaning also was meant to appease the gods who would come down to earth to make inspections.[4]
  • On the 15th and final day of the Chinese New Year, people eat round dumplings shaped like the full moon. The round balls symbolize reunion and are filled with glutinous rice flour sugar fillings.[6]
  • Under the rule of Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong (1893–1976), the government forbade celebration of the traditional Chinese New Year and followed the Gregorian calendar in its dealings with the West.[6]
  • Firework displays during the Chinese New Year stem from the tradition of lighting bamboo stalks on fire to ward off evil spirits, especially Nian, the evil dragon most commonly portrayed in the new year parades.[4]
  • According to legend, fireworks scare away Nian, a terrible dragon
  • According to Chinese tradition, whatever someone does on New Year’s Day sets the precedent for the rest of the year. For example, if someone borrows money on New Year’s Day, he or she will be borrowing all year.[6]
  • Chinese people are encouraged not to use foul language or “unlucky” words on New Year’s Day. Negative words and the word “four” (which sounds like the word for “death" in Chinese) are taboo as well.[2]
  • Talking about the past is discouraged on Chinese New Year’s Day because everything should be turned to the future new year and new beginnings.[4]
  • On Chinese New Year’s Day, children are not spanked even if they are misbehaving because, according to tradition, if children cry on this day, they will cry all year.[4]
  • On New Year’s Day, no sweeping or dusting takes place in a Chinese home because people don’t want to sweep away good fortune. Only on the 5th day of the celebration and after should people remove dirt from the home—but only out the back door.[4]
  • On New Year’s Day, Chinese people are not supposed to wash their hair because it might wash away good luck for the new year.[4]
  • San Francisco hosts the largest Chinese New Year celebration outside of Asia
  • San Francisco claims that its Chinese New Year parade is the biggest celebration outside of Asia. It has hosted a Chinese New Year celebration since the 1860s during the Gold Rush, when large number of Chinese immigrated to the region.[4]
  • On the Chinese New Year, no one uses scissors or knives because it is believed using them might cut off good fortune.[4]
  • Traditionally, on the Chinese New Year, the first person one meets and the first words someone hears indicate the type of fortune someone will have for the rest of the year.[6]
  • During the Chinese New Year, it is considered unlucky to greet anyone in the bedroom, so everyone, even the sick, tries to get dressed and sit in the living room.[6]
  • One New Year’s Day, Chinese families eat a vegetarian dish consisting of 18 ingredients called jai. All 18 ingredients have been attributed with superstitious qualities, such as the lotus seed (for male offspring), black moss seaweed (for wealth), and bamboo shoots (for wellness).[6]
  • Eating a whole chicken is popular during the Chinese New Year. It is important for the chicken to still have its head, tail, and feet to symbolize completeness.[6]
  • During the Chinese New Year, noodles are not cut, as a way to represent long life.[6]
  • The Yule Log is an important symbol of the Chinese New Year celebrations. A log decorated with red ribbons and glitter, it traditionally would burn for one night and smolder for 12 days, to symbolize the 12 months of the Chinese year. It symbolizes the return of the light to conquer darkness.[6]
  • The two flowers most commonly associated with the Chinese New Year are the plum blossom, which is a symbol of courage and hope, and the water narcissus, which symbolizes good luck and prosperity.[6]
  • The plum flower symbolizes luckiness
  • On the first day of the Chinese New Year, people usually do not eat meat. Abstaining from meat on the first day not only ensures a long and happy life, but it also helps purify and cleanse the body. Additionally, it honors the tradition that nothing should be killed on the first day of the new year.[6]
  • The 5th day of the Chinese New Year is called Po Woo. On this day, people stay at home to welcome the God of Wealth. No one visits friends or families because it is believed visiting will bring both parties bad luck.[6]
  • It is considered unlucky to eat tofu on Chinese New Year because it is white. For the Chinese, white signifies death and misfortune.[4]
  • Younger people in China increasingly prefer to surf the Internet, sleep, watch TV, and spend time with friends during Chinese New Year rather than celebrate with family. For them, the holiday has evolved from focusing on renewing family ties to a chance to relax from work.[3]
  • During the Chinese New Year celebrations, fireworks play a significant role. However, there is a downside. In 2012, fireworks caused over 6,000 accidents on the first day of the holiday alone.[1]
  • Chinese supermarkets report that sales of adult diapers increase by 50% during the Chinese New Year traveling season.[1]
  • About the same time as the Chinese New Year, the people of Scotland celebrate the life of the poet Robert Burns. Fifth-generation Chinese–Canadian Thomas Wong decided to integrate the celebrations together in a festival called “Gung Haggis Fat Choy,” or “Chinese Burns Night.” It is not unusual during this celebration to see someone wearing a Chinese lion head costume and a kilt dancing to bagpipe music.[1]
  • In Chinese, the word "orange" sounds like the Chinese word for "wealth"
  • Vases of flowers are placed around houses in preparation for Chinese New Year to symbolize rebirth and growth. Bowls of oranges and tangerines are also displayed to symbolize good luck and wealth.[6]
  • Nianhua are Chinese New Year pictures that are traditionally hung on the doors during the new year celebration. Dating as far back as 800 years during the Song Dynasty, the images depict scenes of posterity and good luck. Common images include birds, fruits, and a plump baby with a large fish. During the 20th century, the Communist Party turned Nianhua into propaganda.[1]
  • In January 2014, BBC subtitles mistranslated a Chinese New Year greeting as “Welcome to the Year of the Whores” rather than “Welcome to the Year of the Horse.”[7]
References

1Boyle, Alan. “10 Things You Didn’t Know about Chinese New Year.” Listverse. January 31, 2014. Accessed: December 17, 2014.

2Chambers, Catherine. Chinese New Year. Austin, TX: Steck-Vaughn Company, 1997.

3Chinese New Year.” History. 2014. Accessed: December 17, 2014.

4Flanagan, Alice K. Chinese New Year. Minneapolis, MN: Compass Point Books, 2003.

5Hatton, Celia. “Chinese New Year Travel Chaos Ensues.” CBS News. January 17, 2012. Accessed: December 17, 2014.

6Heinrichs, Ann. Chinese New Year. Chanhassen, MN: The Child’s World, 2006.

7Jivanda, Tomas. “Chinese New Year: BBC Subtitle Blunder Reads ‘Welcome to the Year of the Whores.’” The Independent. February 2, 2012. Accessed: December 17, 2014.

8Ng, Naomi. “Mother’s Front Page Ad Begs Son to Come Home for Chinese New Year.” CNN. January 29, 2014. Accessed: January 1, 2015.

9Vanderklippe, Nathan. “More than 1,000,000,000 People in Transit: Chinese New Years in Numbers.” The Globe and Mail. Updated January 31, 2014. Accessed: December 17, 2014.

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