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Every country on earth has one or two holidays that represent its sense of national pride or a spirit of togetherness. In the U.S., many might say that the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving are our most important holidays. In China, that holiday is the Chinese New Year.

Unlike New Year’s Day as it’s recognized around most of the world, which China has also recognized since 1912, the Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, is based on the Chinese lunar calendar and lasts 16 days. It is meant to symbolize the end of the cold days of winter and the welcoming of spring, planting harvests, and fresh beginnings. One aspect of the Chinese New Year that many find interesting is its use of the Chinese Zodiac signs. We’ll get more into that in just a bit.

In 2021, the Chinese New Year will begin on February 12 and run through February 26th, when the end of the holiday is celebrated with the Lantern Festival.

Firecrackers to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

The Tradition

The history of The Chinese New Year dates back 4,000 years. Many Chinese will mark the Chinese New Year with the Laba Festival, which actually begins about two weeks prior and marks the beginning of the Spring Festival. It is during the Laba Festival that families honor their ancestors and pray for good fortune and harvest.

Each of the 16 days of the Spring Festival is marked with specific meals, traditions, and even superstitions. For example, after New Year’s Eve, and on the first day of the festival, firecrackers are used to welcome the new year and good luck. It’s also a traditional day of leftovers and Tu Su wine -- made by infusing wine with rhubarb and herbs. It is believed that everyone in the home must drink some Tu Su to ensure a healthy year, and everyone in the house is forbidden to clean or sweep, lest they will sweep away their good fortune.

Throughout the celebration’s 16 days, some traditions run unabated. Everything is decorated with the color red, and it has nothing to do with the nation’s Communist government. According to a longstanding legend, firecrackers and the color red were weapons used to scare off Nian, an ancient monster. Now the color is used in nearly all Chinese New Year decorations.

The longest holiday on the Chinese calendar ends with the first full moon of the (lunar) year and is a night of partying called the Lantern Festival. The tradition dates back 2,000 years to a time when women were not permitted outside the house. But on this night, they could stroll freely, lighting lanterns, playing games, and interacting with their neighbors. In more modern times, the night is celebrated with moon gazing, riddles, lion dances, and of course the lighting of the majestic lanterns.

The Chinese zodiac.

The Zodiac

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Chinese New Year is its zodiac. The Chinese zodiac is a repeating 12-year cycle of animal signs, in which the attributes of the animals are said to be reflective of the year and those who are born during it. The 12 zodiac signs are Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig.

The Spring Festival marks the transition from one zodiac sign to the next. February 12, 2021, will mark the transition from the year of the rat to the year of the ox. The Chinese Zodiac comes with its own traditions and superstitions as well. Many believe that it’s a sign of good luck when their year comes up, but that is not correct. The legend says the sign of your birth year represents a “hurdle you must jump over.” It’s suggested that to keep bad spirits and bad fortune away during your year, you should wear red underwear -- every day.

According to the website Chinese New Year, the Chinese New Year is celebrated by an estimated 20 percent of the Earth’s population. If you’ve never tried celebrating, they suggest using the holiday to introduce your family to a new culture. The website is filled with dozens of ideas for activities, food choices, and more. In preparation, you can also read up on

  1. 7 Delicious International Tasting Menus Perfect For A New Year’s Eve At Home (includes numerous Chinese options)
  2. Why Vancouver Is An Asian Foodie Paradise (lots of Chinese restaurant and cuisine recommendations!)
  3. San Francisco’s Chinatown: 12 Things To Know Before You Go
  4. The Best Places To Eat In San Francisco’s Chinatown
  5. How To Visit The Leshan Giant Buddha In China
  6. 8 Fascinating Facts About The Great Wall Of China
  7. 5 Facts About The Terra-Cotta Army Of Xi'an, China
  8. 9 Fantastic Things To See And Do In Xi’an, China
  9. China’s Chongqing Zhongshuge Bookstore Needs A Spot On Every Book Lover’s Bucket List
  10. How To Visit China’s Actual Stairway To Heaven
  11. The Chinese Garden In Singapore Is An Architecture-Lover’s Delight
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