Chinese New Year 2021. What are Lunar New Year Traditions?

Published on 10 February 2021


The Chinese New Year of 2021 is approaching! However, this year is a bit unusual. If you are aware of the news in China, the most common phrases that have appeared recently are  “就地过年” (jiù dì guò nián), means “New Year on the spot”, staying where you are for celebrating the New Year and avoiding travelling as much as possible, because of the current pandemic.  For China, this is very unusual as it is the time of the year when everyone travels to see family, and is the world's single biggest movement of people. But this is not stopping people passionately celebrating the Chinese New Year. 

So, what are some of the famous traditions and activities in the Chinese New Year celebrations? Let’s find out some interesting things about Chinese New Year!

What is Chinese New Year 2021?



Chinese New Year 2021, New Year’s day, 新年, also known as the Spring Festival, or 春节, is on February 12. 
Each year in the Chinese Zodiac calendar has a representative animal, for the 2021 year this is the Ox. the Ox is one of the 12 Chinese zodiacs and ranks second in importance.. If you divide whatever the given year is by the number 12 and the remainder is 5, the year number will always be a year of the Ox. For example, 2021/12 is 168 with 5 left over. And 1949/12, (1949 was also a year of the Ox), is 162 with 5 left over. Isn’t this interesting?Chinese find things like this fascinating.

Chinese New Year’s history 

Chinese New Year celebrations have taken place for over 4,000 years. Legend has it that in ancient times, there was a monster called the Year (Nián). Every year, it only came out one day and night to go to the village and invade villagers door to door. Once upon a time, "Nián" came to the village again to hurt the villagers. At that moment, a child was setting off firecrackers and the firecrackers sounded very loud, frightening "Nián" who turned around and ran away in horror. He ran to a family's yard to hide. There happened to be in this courtyard a red dress drying on a washing line, floating up and down in the wind. "Nian" thought it was a beast bigger than him, and, already frightened by the firecrackers, ran away in horror. Nián ran to another village, where a large fire was burning brightly, so that Nián's eyes hurt and he couldn't open them. This was the final straw for Nián so he ran away scared. People were very happy and celebrated. The next day, people congratulated each other on their safety and health. After this, they agreed to set off firecrackers, wear red clothes and stay awake until dawn on that day every year, keeping the lights at home bright, just to make sure Nián never reappeared. The next day, people congratulated each other on their safety and health. This night is now New Year's Eve, the second day is the first day of the lunar calendar, which is now the New Year.

In ancient China, people already celebrated the New Year, but unlike now, the ancient Chinese New Year was not called the Spring Festival. About 100 years ago, China began to implement the solar calendar, and only then began to call the first day of the lunar calendar, the Spring Festival as well as New Year.

Chinese New Year’s customs and traditions



Chinese New Year lunar calendar

Chinese society does not use the western (Gregorian) calendar for traditional festivals and ceremonies, but uses a lunar calendar,based on the cycles of the moon and sun. The lunar cycles are not exact, being between 29 and 30 days, so the length of each year varies and there’s a gradual shift from alignment with the movements of the moon and sun, so every so often a “leap month” needs to be added to adjust the calendar back to the movements of the sun and moon, similar to Leap years in the Gregorian calendar. This means that the first day of each New Year varies, and is never the same as the beginning of the New Year in the Gregorian calendar, but it is always on the first day of spring in the Chinese lunar calendar. 

Animal of Chinese New Year

Chinese people use 12 kinds of animals to represent the year, in order of rats, cattle, tigers, rabbits, dragons, snakes, horses, sheep, monkeys, chickens, dogs, pigs, every 12 years. Why twelve years? This is from Jupiter. Jupiter made a roundabout 12 years, and in ancient times people judged the year from Jupiter's position. The number 12 is also used in many other aspects, such as 12 months and 12 hours, which traditional Chinese medicine believes that the human body has 12 meridians. Using animals to represent the year is an ancient time when people expressed their worship of animals. These 12 animals have beautiful legends.

Chinese family traditions —New Year’s Eve Dinner

The Spring Festival is very important to Chinese people. It is not only a holiday for the whole nation but also a day for a family reunion and sharing of happiness. No matter how far away from their hometown, people take every opportunity to travel back home on New Year's Eve to enjoy the reunion dinner with their families. Food, and eating together, are very important features of Chinese life, so it's not strange that one of the biggest parts of the New Year celebration is a family dinner. This lovely day is the highlight of celebrating the New Year as it is not only rich in delicious food dishes, but also rich in meaning for the new year. For example “鸡” (chicken) meaning “吉祥如意”(good luck), “鱼”(fish) implying “年年有余”(have abundance year after year), “生菜”(lettuce) representing “发财”(fortune), “腐竹” (yuba) meaning “富足”(affluence) etc.

Chinese New Year food for kids


Children before 1980 were looking forward to the New Year with great anticipatin, more than today. Why? Because living standards were not developed at that time, children could only eat candy on special days. During the Spring Festival, people filled their tables with candy, melon seeds and other snacks to entertain relatives and friends who come to pay New Year's greetings. These days became a children's paradise. Nowadays, living conditions are much better, as in other developed countries, so having candy is an everyday possibility. In order to be healthy, parents usually control their children from eating too much candy and snacks, but during the Spring Festival, supervision will also be relaxed, so the Spring Festival is still a paradise for children.

Green onion, celery

In Chinese, "onion" and "smart" are homophones. Celery and diligence are also homophones in Chinese. In the New Year, parents specially add these two vegetables to children's meals and single them out for their children to eat, hoping that their children will be both smart and diligent in the new year.

Fun facts about Chinese New Year




These are noisy, often quite big, fireworks that were a popular activity to celebrate the Chinese New Year, used for more than 2,000 years. Kids would be extremely excited about firecrackers. At midnight or dawn on New Year's Eve, every household would light firecrackers, which are thought to scare off the evil spirits and bad luck from the past and welcome the good luck of the new year. The louder the sound of firecrackers, the luckier it is and the higher possibility of making a fortune. After setting off the firecrackers, the leftover, torn red pieces from the firework left on the floor represent celebration, happiness and auspiciousness, making this one of the most popular New Year activities. However, firecrackers are potentially hazardous to personal safety and to the environment, so nowadays they have been banned in most places and only local authorised groups can organise displays of fireworks, including these.

Chinese New Year's Eve Money

This is the original red pocket money(红包). New Year's Eve money, 压岁钱, has the meaning of blessing the recipient and it is also the gift that many children look forward to. The elders in the family usually put money in red envelopes and give them to the younger generations on New Year’s Eve, wishing them peace and good health. In some places, the elders will put the red envelopes under the pillows of the younger ones. Recently, as people are becoming much more affluent than before, getting New Year's Money has become a type of competition between children. If you ever look it up on the internet, New Year's Eve Money is one of the most searched keywords in every new year.

Chinese New Year good luck symbols


Wearing new clothes

Wearing new clothes on the first day of the New Year is one of the ancient traditions, meaning farewell to the old and welcome to the new. Other than having a lot of delicious foods, receiving red envelopes (see below), children are also looking forward to this time of the New Year by dressing up in new clothes. Traditionally, the colour of the clothes is mostly red or similar to fit with the new year themes of prosperity and great luck. Even if the adults don't get new clothes, they will dress neatly and visit each other at this time of year. As people's economic conditions improve, wearing new clothes is no longer a special thing in daily life, so the custom of wearing new clothes during the New Year is changing。Up till now, many people would have prepared a set of Tangzhuang (唐裝), a kind of Chinese jacket with a straight collar, to wear during Chinese New Year.

Chinese hand writing "福" (Fu) 

At New Year’s Eve, many people like to put up an upside-down "福" (Fu) on the door, which means hope and happiness have arrived or are about to arrive. The Chinese character "福" (Fu) is like an upside down 到(dảo) which menas to arrive, so the upside down Fu symbolises arrival as well as hope and happiness

Chinese food 

Chinese people love to cook dishes with meanings during Spring festival period.For example “鸡” (chicken) meaning “吉祥如意”(good luck), “鱼”(fish) implying “年年有余”(have abundance year after year), “生菜”(lettuce) representing “发财”(fortune), “腐竹” (yuba) meaning “富足”(affluence) etc.

Chinese New Year activities



Chinese New Year's greetings

It is one of the oldest customs used to celebrate the New Year and also the most important one. The time of New Year greetings is usually from the first to the fifth day of the New Year. Relatives, friends and neighbours will visit and greet each other, wishing everyone a happy New Year. Traditionally, from the morning of the first day of the new year, young people would bow their heads to the elders at home and wish them good health, happiness and longevity. Family members and friends give each other blessings such as “恭喜发财” (congratulations on getting rich),  or “工作顺利”(good luck with work) and so on. In recent years, the way New Year greetings are exchanged has gradually changed, as can be seen by people greeting each other by phone, SMS, video call and "WeChat circles”. 

Especially this year, people are following the government's advice to “Celebrate the New Year at home” by ordering gifts from the internet to be delivered to the family and friends, instead of walking around to meet each other, giving this the nickname of “云拜年” (celebrating the new year on the cloud).

Red envelopes

Red envelopes actually come from the idea of New Year's Eve money, which only occurs between relatives and family members, but the scope of giving red envelopes is much wider. They can be given to your neighbours, colleagues and friends and can also be used for events such as weddings and opening of new stores, birthday gifts, thank you gift et. Giving and receiving red envelopes is part of the traditional Chinese customs, reflecting the Chinese courtesy of respecting each other's thoughts and blessings. Nowadays, red envelopes are no longer coloured red alone,they
can be made of various patterns and colours. Noticeably, electronic red envelopes have recently appeared on different internet platforms such as WeChat, Alipay and even some banks have begun to set up red envelope services for people to make an easy transfer. Sending red envelopes online has also become a marketing tool for merchants, “grabbing red envelopes” on the Internet has become a huge New Year entertainment activity.

Chinese New Year Regional Celebrations 

In addition to the national traditional activities, each region of China has its own way of celebrating the New Year with slightly different customs. For example, the “Gaoqiao”(高跷) in the North East, “Yangko”(秧歌) in Shanxi, ”God-worshipping"(拜神) in Guangdong, as well as the lion dance,temple fairs, and lanterns,all have a rich historical and cultural background. These are the essence of Chinese traditional culture and a way to understand traditional Chinese culture.


Is 2021 a lucky year ?

In Chinese culture, the Ox is a symbol of hard work, productivity and growth. Using this expression, people are hoping that the new year will become a better year without the pandemic, and life and economy will return to prosperity.

What countries celebrate Chinese new year?

The reason why Chinese New Year is famous all over the world is because of the rich, colourful decoration, lively events and delicious foods that are eaten. Interestingly, not only Chinese celebrate the Lunar New Year, but people from South East Asian countries such as North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam and Singapore also celebrate the Lunar New Year, so sometimes it is also called “Asian New Year”. 

Why is Chinese new year important? 

Chinese new year is the most important event of the year for many Chinese people. Although there is a New Year’s Day, 新年, as in western culture every year, as New Year approaches, Chinese people make wishes and give each other blessings as different ways of expressing hope for the coming New Year to be a good one, and often for it to be better than the old one. Everyone travels at around the same time to be together, with roads, trains and flights all full. People want to be together have dinner with their family at home on New Year's eve, similar to Christmas travel in western countries, but much bigger! This is one of the largest single travel events in the world, as millions of Chinese.

How long is the duration of Chinese New Year?

Chinese New Year celebrations last until the 15th day of the New Year, when the Lantern festival marks the end of the New year or Spring Festival period .The actual date in the Gregorian calendar of Chinese New Year is usually between January 21 and February 22. Spring Festival, 春节, 2021, begins on February 12 and ends on February 26 with the Lantern festival. Spring Festival is the largest national holiday in China, starting on new year’s Day and lasting for the first 7 days for everyone and longer for others.



Now you know so many interesting things abut Chinese New Year, do you want to travel to China and discover other interesting things for yourself? China has so much to discover, being an ancient culture side by side with an ultra modern society. These 50 most useful Chinese mandarin words and phrases for the social occasion may help you if you decide to visit!


Finally, I wish you all a happy 牛( niú )year!



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