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Chinese New Year: Dates, Animals, Food, and Traditions

Chinese New Year: Dates, Animals, Food, and Traditions

Written by CindyUpdated Aug. 24, 2022

Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, is the most important festival in China and a major event in some other East Asian countries (Lunar New Year is known as Seollal in South Korea, Tet in Vietnam, and Tsagaan Sar in Mongolian). Lunar New Year celebrations are being held more and more in Western cities in recent years too, like New York, London, Vancouver, and Sydney.

Chinese New Year is the festival that celebrates the beginning of a new year on the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar. It was traditionally a time to honor deities as well as ancestors, and it has also become a time to feast and to visit family members

The celebrations traditionally last about two weeks in total, from Chinese New Year’s Eve to the Lantern Festival, held on the 15th day of the lunar year. Regional customs and traditions vary widely but share the same theme: seeing out the old year and welcoming in the luck and prosperity of a new year. 

Chinese New Year 2023 will fall on Sunday, January 22nd, 2023, beginning a year of the Rabbit. 

  • Also called: 'Spring Festival', Lunar New Year
  • Chinese: 春节 Chūn Jié /chwn-jyeah/
  • 2023 date: Sunday, Jan. 22nd, Year of the Water Rabbit
  • Holiday: 7 days 
  • Celebrations: New Year decorations, New Year's Eve dinner, firecrackers and fireworks, red envelopes, dragon dances...
  • See more Chinese New Year facts

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When Is Chinese New Year 2023?

Again, Lunar New Year 2023 will fall on Sunday, January 22nd, 2023. The date of the Chinese New Year is determined by the Chinese lunar calendar. The date changes every year but is always somewhere in the period from January 21st to February 20th. Read more on Chinese New Year dates from 2023 to 2030.

Chinese New Year Animal: 2023 — Year of the Water Rabbit

Chinese Calendar 2022 is a year of the TigerThe Chinese zodiac gives each year an animal sign.

Each Chinese year is associated with an animal sign according to the Chinese zodiac cycle, which features 12 animal signs in the order Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig.

2023 is the year of the Rabbit. The recent and incoming Tiger years are 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023, and 2035. If you were born in one of these years, your Chinese zodiac sign is the Rabbit.

People born in the year of the Rabbit will experience their zodiac year (Ben Ming Nian) in 2023, which is considered bad luck. It is believed that wearing red will bring them good luck.

These zodiac signs always begin on Chinese Lunar New Year's Day, rather than January 1st!

Year Date of Chinese New Year Day Animal Sign
2021 Feb.12 Friday Ox
2022 Feb. 1 Tuesday Tiger
2023 Jan.22 Sunday Rabbit
2024 Feb.10 Saturday Dragon
2025 Jan.29 Wednesday Snake
2026 Feb.17 Tuesday Horse
2027 Feb.6 Saturday Goat
2028 Jan.26 Wednesday Monkey
2029 Feb.13 Tuesday Rooster
2030 Feb.3 Sunday Dog
2031 Jan.23 Thursday Pig
2032 Feb.11 Wednesday Rat

Chinese New Year Origin and Myth: Legend of Beast Nian

chinese new year enjoys a long history

Chinese New Year has a history of over 3,000 years and is associated with several myths. A popular legend tells of the mythical beast Nian (/nyen/, which sounds the same as 'year' in Chinese), which shows 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. These traditions have been continued until the present time.

Read more on:

Chinese New Year Traditions   

The main Chinese New Year activities include 1) putting up decorations, 2) offering sacrifices to ancestors, 3) eating reunion dinner with family on New Year's Eve, 4) giving red envelopes and other gifts, 5) firecrackers and fireworks, and 6) watching lion and dragon dances.

1. Cleaning and Decorating Houses with Red Things

People decorate houses with red lanterns and red couplets.

People give their houses a thorough cleaning before the Spring Festival, which symbolizes sweeping away the bad luck of the preceding year and making their homes ready to receive good luck.

Red is the main color for the festival, as red is believed to be an auspicious color for the Lunar New Year, denoting prosperity and energy — which ward off evil spirits and negativity. Red lanterns hang in streets; red couplets and New Year pictures are pasted on doors. 

2. Offering Sacrifices to Ancestors

chinese new year tradition: Offering Sacrifices to Ancestors

Honoring the dead is a Chinese New Year’s tradition that’s kept to the word. Many Chinese people visit ancestors' graves on the day before the Chinese New Year's day,  offer sacrifices to ancestors before the reunion dinner (to show that they are letting their ancestors "eat" first), and add an extra glass and place it at the dinner table on New Year’s eve. 

3. Enjoying a Family Reunion Dinner on Lunar New Year's Eve

Chinese new year reunion dinner

Chinese New Year (Lunar New Year) is a time for families to be together. Chinese New Year's Eve is the most important time. Wherever they are, people are expected to be home to celebrate the festival with their families. The Chinese New Year's Eve dinner is called 'reunion dinner'. Big families of several generations sit around round tables and enjoy the food and time together.

4. Exchanging Red Envelopes and other Gifts 

Giving Chinese New Year Red Envelopes to children

The most common gifts are red envelopes (or red packets, lìshì or lai see in Cantonese). Red envelopes have money in, and are often given to children and (retired) seniors.

The red envelope (money) is called ya sui qian (压岁钱 /yaa sway chyen/), which means 'suppressing Sui [the demon]money'. Those who receive a red envelope are wished another safe and peaceful year. 

The amount of money ranges from a couple of dollars to several hundred. Chinese superstitions favor amounts that begin with even numbers, such as 8 (a homophone for "wealth"), and 6 (a homophone for "smooth"), except for the number 4 as it rhymes with the word that means "death". 

Other popular Lunar New Year gifts are alcohol, tea, fruits, and candies.

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5. Setting Off Firecrackers and Fireworks

Setting Off Firecrackers on Chinese new year

From public displays in major cities to millions of private celebrations in China's rural areas, setting off firecrackers and fireworks is an indispensable festive activity. It is a way to scare away the evil and welcome the new year's arrival. 

Billions of fireworks go up in China at 12 am and in the first minutes of Chinese New Year, the most anywhere at any time of year.

6. Watching Lion and Dragon Dances

watching lion dance during chinese new yearLion dance

Lion dances and dragon 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.

There are more Chinese New Year traditions and customs, such as wearing new clothes, staying up late on Chinese New Year's Eve, watching the Spring Festival Gala, etc. 

Chinese New Year Food

Lucky food is served during the 16-day festival season, especially on the New Year's Eve family reunion dinner. Fish is a must as it sounds like 'surplus' in Chinese and symbolizes abundance. Dumplings shaped like Chinese silver ingots are shared as a sign of the family unit and prosperity. People eat Niángāo (glutinous rice cake) to symbolize a higher income or position as it sounds like 'year high'. 

Chinese New Year Food

Read more on: 

Chinese New Year Superstitions: Things You Mustn't Do

Chinese people traditionally believe that the year's start affects the whole year, so China’s Spring Festival is a season of superstitions. It's believed that what something looks like (color, shape), and what its name sounds like, gives it auspicious or ill-fated significance. There are many things you cannot do:

  • Don't sweep up on New Year's Day, otherwise you’ll 'sweep all your luck away'.
  • Don't eat porridge for breakfast, otherwise you’ll 'become poor in the upcoming year'.
  • Don't wash your clothes and hair (on New Year’s Day), otherwise you’ll 'wash fortune away'.

See more on Chinese New Year Taboos and Superstitions: Top 18 Things You Should Not Do.

Chinese New Year Taboos and Superstitions

How to Say "Happy Chinese New Year" in Chinese

Happy Chinese New Year in Chinese

When people meet friends, relatives, colleagues, and even strangers during the festive period, they usually say “Xīnnián hǎo” (新年好), literally meaning 'New Year Goodness', or “Xīnnián kuàilè” (新年快乐), meaning ‘Happy Chinese New Year’.

One of the most famous traditional greetings for Chinese New Year is the Cantonese kung hei fat choi, literally ‘happiness and prosperity’. In Mandarin that’s gongxi facai.

新年好 — Happy Chinese New Year

  • In Mandarin: xīn nián hǎo /sshin-nyen haoww/

  • In Cantonese: san nin hou

恭喜发财 — Happiness and prosperity 

  • In Mandarin: gōng xǐ fā cái /gong-sshee faa-tseye/

  • In Cantonese: gong hay fat choy

For more greetings and wishes, see 

happy tiger year

Lunar New Year Calendar and Schedule: Key Dates

Chinese New Year celebration

Each day of the 16-day long festival has a name, and usually an assigned purpose or meaning. Below is a table of all the important dates and their meanings. Keep in mind that different regions and minorities may celebrate the days on different dates, or have different names or practices for certain days.

Solar Date (2022) Lunar Date Title Purpose / Meaning
 Jan. 14th  12th month, 23rd day Little Year
(小年 Xiǎonián)
Preparation day, mainly for thorough house-cleaning, and cooking.
Jan. 21st  12th month, 30th day
除夕 (Chúxì)
New Year’s Eve
(除夕 Chúxì)
The most important celebration, includes the family reunion dinner, and staying up until midnight.
Jan. 22nd  1st month, 1st day  
初一 (Chūyī)
New Year's Day
初一 (Chūyī)
A day for visiting/greeting family and relatives, giving presents, and visiting ancestors' graves.
 Jan. 23rd  1st month, 2nd day  
初二 (Chū'èr)
In-Law’s Day
(迎婿日 Yíngxùrì, or
开年 Kāinián)
Married women visit their parents with their husbands and children.
Jan. 24th   1st month, 3rd day  
初三 (Chūsān)
Day of the Rat
(鼠日 Shǔrì)
An ominous day, common to stay at home and rest with family, play games.
 Jan. 25th   1st month, 4th day
 初四 (Chūsì)
Day of the Sheep
(羊日 Yángrì)
An auspicious day, for prayer and giving offerings, or going to temples or fortune-tellers.
 Jan. 26th   1st month, 5th day  
初五 (Chūwǔ)
Break Five
(破五 Pòwǔ)
Commonly accepted as the day when taboos (from previous days) can be broken.
 Jan. 27th  1st month, 6th day  
初六 (Chūliù)
Day of the Horse
(马日 Mǎrì)
Believed to be the best day to get rid of old, unwanted things. Also an acceptable day to resume labor.
 Jan. 28th  1st month, 7th day  
初七 (Chūqī)
Day of Mankind
(人日  Rénrì)
Believed to be the day people were created. Encouraged to spend out in nature.
 Jan. 29th  1st month, 8th day  
初八 (Chūbā)
Day of the Grain
(谷日节  Gǔrìjié)
Good weather on this day will symbolize good crops for the year. Many families will have a second 'mini' reunion dinner.
 Jan. 30th  1st month, 9th day  
初九 (Chūjiǔ)
Providence Health
(天公生 Tiāngōngshēng)
The 'Jade Emperor's birthday, giving offerings, lighting incense, and setting off firecrackers.
 Jan. 31st   1st month, 10th day  
初十 (Chūshí)
Stone Festival
(石头节 Shítoujié)
The birthday of the 'god stone', similar to the previous day's rituals.
 Feb, 1st  1st month, 11th day  
初十一 (Chūshíyī)
Son-in-Law Day
(子婿日 Zǐxùrì)
Fathers are expected to 'entertain' or treat their sons-in-law on this day. 
 Feb.  2nd – 4th  1st month, 12th – 14th day  
初十二 - 初十四 (Chūshí'èr - Chūshísì)
Lantern Day Preparations Preparations for the lantern festival: cooking, making lanterns, etc.
 Feb. 5th  1st month, 15th day  
初十五 (Chūshíwǔ)
Lantern Festival
(元宵节  Yuánxiāojié)
Marks the end of the festival. Lanterns are lit and hung or flown, people watch dragon dances in the streets, and children answer lantern riddles.  

FAQs about Lunar New Year

1. Why Is Chinese New Year So Important?

Chinese New Year’s importance is rooted deep in history, and today it remains the most important occasion for generations of families to reunite and spend time together. The celebration is also believed to be significant to ensure good fortune for the coming year. Learn the interesting stories and legends about Chinese New Year.

2. How Is Lunar New Year Celebrated?

The most important part of the Chinese New Year celebration is the ‘Reunion Dinner’ on Chinese New Year's Eve when the extended family would join around the table for a meal that included many lucky foods such as fish and dumpling.

Other traditional activities include cleaning houses, visiting family members, decorating, giving gifts and red envelopes, setting off firecrackers and fireworks, and doing some religious practices such as making offerings to ancestors. Click to see the top 18 Chinese New Year celebrations

3. Why Is It called the Spring Festival?

Though being in winter for most of China, the Chinese New Year is popularly known as the Spring Festival in China. Because it starts from the Beginning of Spring (the first of the twenty-four terms in coordination with the changes of Nature) and marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring.

The Spring Festival marks a new year on the lunar calendar and represents the desire for a new life. Read more on FAQs about Chinese New Year You Must Want to Know Answers To.

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