The Chinese Lunar New Year, What You Need To Know

The Chinese Lunar New Year, What You Need To Know
Lunar New Year (Tet) flowers in downtown Hanoi to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

Each January or February many manufacturers and offices in Asia take a long break for a festival they call the Lunar New Year. Many foreigners may wonder why this time of year is some important and why they take such a long break.


For anyone who is manufacturing in Asia or looking to manufacture products in Asia, it is important to understand a bit of the Chinese New Year which is the most important holiday of the year. This is a major holiday in China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and other Asian countries. It is time for the families to unite and to gather together. The Lunar New Year is also filled with a lot of symbolism for health, prosperity and good luck for the coming year.

To understand why this holiday or festival is so important it is good to know a bit about the Chinese New Year holiday and also the lunar calendar and cultural symbols that this major holiday represents.

What is the Chinese Lunar New Year?

The Chinese New Year is also referred to as the Lunar New Year. In Vietnam, it is called Tet, and in China, it can be called the Spring Festival. This is a cultural festival that celebrates the beginning of the New Year for the traditional Chinese lunar calendar.

Here are some countries that observe the Lunar New Year and the names they may use for the festival:

  • China – Spring Festival or Lunar New Year
  • Taiwan – Spring Festival or Lunar New Year
  • Hong Kong – Lunar New Year.
  • Korea – Korean New Year (seol)
  • Vietnam – Tet
  • Tibet – Losar

It is also celebrated in some kind of form in any country that has a large Chinese population like Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Philippines, Mauritius, North America, and Europe. For many of these Asian countries with large Chinese populations will also have a public holiday during the Chinese New Year period.

Writing above the doors

Auspicious writing above the doorways in China.

What is the Chinese Lunar Calendar?

To first understand the Chinese Lunar New Year it is good to understand a bit about the Chinese Lunar Calendar. For many foreigners what can be confusing is that the Chinese Lunar New Year dates change every single year. This is because the dates of celebration do not follow the Gregorian calendar which is now the standard calendar used throughout the world. But, this celebration or holiday only follows the Chinese Lunar Calendar which is not the same as the Gregorian calendar.

The Chinese Lunar Calendar is officially known as the Agricultural Calendar, or also the traditional calendar. It uses astronomy to calculate the years and months. This calendar will also be used by the Chinese to decide what are the most auspicious days for events like a wedding, funeral, moving or even starting a new business.

Here are a few interesting facts about this Lunar New Year Calendar:

  • Beginning Days – Days will begin and end at midnight according to the calendar.
  • Months – The months begin on the day of the new moon. So this calendar is calculated by the moon cycle. When Chinese New Year falls in January those years will have intercalary months, which are inserted to harmonize with the solar year.
  • Year – the years will begin on the second (or third) new moon after the winter solstice.
  • Solar terms are used – A solar term is any 24-hour period that can match a particularly significant date or some natural phenomenon.
  • Zodiac animals – Each year will have one of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals associated with it. If you are born in January or February in the Gregorian calendar, to know what year of the animal you are, you need to also know what day the Chinese New Year started for the date of your birth to know exactly what Chinese Zodiac animal sign you were born under. The Zodiac animals are the Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig, Rat/Mouse, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, and Dragon.
  • Heavenly Stems and The Five Elements – along with the 12-year cycle of zodiac animals there is also a 10-year cycle of heavenly stems associated with the calendar and also the five elements of Chinese astrology which are called wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. These elements are rotated each year and are also known as yin and yang. For example, there would be a Yang Wood, Yin Wood, Yang Fire, Yin Fire, etc. This will repeat every 60 years for every animal. The yang fire rat happened in 1936 and the yang fire rat does not happen again until 1996 (which is 60 years from the first time it happened).

Why is this Lunar New Year Holiday So Important?

The Chinese Lunar New Year Holiday is one of the most important holidays throughout the year in China and other parts of the region as in Vietnam.

Here are some reasons why the Lunar New Year Holiday is so important:

  • Heavenly Deities – This is a time to honor many heavenly deities. In Vietnam, the Buddhist temples are usually full during this time period with people coming to worship in the temples.
  • Families – This is a time to honor families. There are certain days of the New Year when you go to see the oldest relative, friends, and others. It is the time period to bring families together as there are many family feasts during this period.
  • Ancestor Worship – This is also a time when many families will gather together to remember their ancestors. Many Asian cultures have Family Books with the history of their families written down for many generations. Some families may readout of these books to remember their ancestors.

To discover more about the family books and Vietnamese Genealogy we recommend you read the blog Vietnamese Genealogy, Searching for Your Family History in Vietnam by clicking here.

Sweeping Hanoi

Sweeping the street area in Hanoi to clean before the Lunar New Year.

Some Traditions of the Lunar New Year

The traditional Lunar New Year is the most important festival on the calendar and the entire household and family will be focused on this celebration at least a month or even two months before it happens. As families are so important for this holiday, that is why businesses will come to a complete stop and the focus will be on home and family.

Here are some important rites that take place during or before the Lunar New Year celebration:

  • Spring Cleaning – Houses are thoroughly cleaned to rid them of any kind of inauspicious breaths, or bad things and even thoughts that might have collected over the old year. This is especially important if you have had any bad events happen over the last year. Cleaning is also looked at as a way to appease the gods who are thought to come down from heaven to make the inspections of the houses and the households.
  • Ritual Sacrifices – Ritual sacrifices are offered to the gods and ancestors. These sacrifices are of paper and usually burned by the side of the road. You can see people burning paper money, cars, houses and a lot of other things they think the gods or ancestors may want or need.
  • Lucky Messages – You can see people scroll and print lucky messages with red paper and black writing on gates and doors of their houses and even offices.
  • Firecrackers – Firecrackers are set off at what is considered to be the most auspicious time to help frighten off evil spirits.
  • Red Lucky Packets – Red Lucky Packets are usually given to the children by their elders. This is said to bring good luck.
  • Flowers and Orange Trees – In many places flowers or spring blossoms are also an important symbol along with some small orange trees. The flowers are kept near the entrances of the homes, at ancestral altars and as a decoration inside the homes. The orange tree or the orange fruit is a symbol of wealth and is associated with being prosperous. In many parts of Asia, they will hang money on the orange tree as a symbol of wealth and good luck during the upcoming coming year.

Many of these rites during this time period are said to bring good luck to the households and the family and also to give long life to the family – in particular, the parents and grandparents.

Flowers Hanoi

Flowers and Orange trees for sale before TET (Lunar New Year) Hanoi, Vietnam.

Food for the Lunar New Year

As with many things during this lunar new year celebration, many of the foods that are eaten are done so with a purpose and a symbolic meaning.

  • Lunar New Years’ Eve Food – During the Lunar New Year Eve the extended family would usually join around the table and usually the last course of the year includes fish. This fish is to symbolize abundance. Some families believe because of this it should not be eaten.
  • Long Noodles – In the first five days of the New Year people would eat long noodles to symbolize a long life.
  • Round Dumplings – On the 15th and final day of the New Year, people eat round dumplings shaped like a full moon to symbolize family unit and perfection.

It is because of these traditions that the Lunar New year Holiday can stretch from not just one day but in many cases to weeks or a month. In China where there is a lot of migrant labor, this may be one of the only times that the migrant workers can go home and see their families. Also even today many Chinese factories may only have off 1 or 2 days a month during the year as they prefer to take a long extended holiday during the Lunar New Year period.

This on top of all the traditions and celebrations is why the Lunar New Year is such a long holiday in many parts of Asia and why factories may close for a month or longer. To them this a time not to concentrate on business, but to concentrate on family, friends, the Gods and the New Year.

Things You Should Not Do During the Lunar Chinese New Year

As the Chinese New Year is about luck or being lucky there are also some taboos and superstitions associated with some days of the lunar new year. Not everyone follows or believes in these superstitions and some are just for the first day of the New Year and some are for the entire Lunar New Year festival (from the 1st to the 15th date of the Lunar New Year).

Here are the superstitions and taboos for the first day of the Chinese New Year:

  • No porridge – Eating porridge is thought to bring poverty
  • No unlucky words – Do speak any unkind, mean or spiteful words, Included in this is not to use words like death. It will bring bad luck.
  • No hair washing – Do not wash your hair as it can wash away the good luck.
  • No clothes washing – As with washing your hair, it can also wash away the good luck.
  • No Needle Work – Needlework on the first day of the New Year is thought to deplete wealth.
  • No Sweeping – Sweeping on the first day of the lunar new year is thought to sweep away wealth.
  • Do not take our garbage – Taking out the garbage is thought to symbolize dumping out the good luck and fortune from the house.
  • A married daughter is not to visit – On the first day of the Lunar New Year, the married daughter should not visit her parents as that is thought to bring bad luck and economic hardship to her parents. She should visit them on the 2nd day of the New Year.

Here are some superstitions and taboos during the entire Lunar New Year celebration period (Day 1 to 15)

  • No crying – Crying is thought to bring bad luck. Parents are also encouraged to try to keep their children from crying as that will bring bad luck to the family.
  • No killing – Killing of any kind should be avoided including animals. This is because blood and the knife used for killing is considered to be a bad omen as it will cause misfortunes.
  • Do not break things as dishes – The breaking of dishes, tools or other things is considered bad luck and associated with a loss of wealth.
  • No Hospital visits – Unless it is an extreme emergency people will avoid visiting the hospital as it is thought to bring bad luck and illness for the coming year,
  • Avoid Theft – Avoid any kind of theft as this thought to bring bad luck with wealth for the entire year.
  • Do not borrow money – Do not borrow any money during this period and have all debts paid by New Year Eve if not there will be bad luck throughout the year.
  • Keep the rice jar full – Keep your rice jar full during the Chinese New Year period, to have it empty is a bad omen.
  • Do not wear damaged clothes – If you wear damaged clothes it is said to bring bad luck.
  • Do not wear black and white clothes – black and white are for funerals and mourning so this can also be a bad omen to wear black and white clothes.
  • Do not give gifts as clocks, scissors or pears – Do not give gifts as clocks, scissors, knives or pears as they have a bad meaning during this time period in the Chinese culture.

The Chinese New Year Holidays

What is confusing for most westerners is when is the Chinese New Year seems to change every year. This can be especially confusing if you are manufacturing home decor or home furnishing or other products in Asia, it is just hard to know and plan around the Lunar New Year holiday dates.

Below is a list of some of the upcoming and past Lunar New Year dates. This may not be the exact dates the offices or manufacturers are off work but it will give you an idea of where the Lunar New Year falls in the Gregorian calendar and what zodiac animal will be celebrated for that year.

YearDate Lunar New YearDay of WeekZodiac Animal
202025 Jan 2020SaturdayRat
202112 Feb 2021FridayOx
x20221 Feb 2022TuesdayTiger
202322 Jan 2023SundayRabbit
202410 Feb 2024SaturdayDragon
202529 Jan 2025WednesdaySnake
202617 Feb 2026TuesdayHorse
20276 Feb 2027SaturdayGoat
202826 Jan 2028WednesdayMonkey
202913 Feb 2029TuesdayRooster
20303 Feb 2030SundayDog
203123 Jan 2031ThursdayPig
203211 Feb 2032WednesdayRat
203331 Jan 2033MondayOx
203419 Feb 2034SundayTiger
20358 Feb 2035ThursdayRabbit
203628 Jan 2036MondayDragon
203715 Feb 2037SundaySnake
20384 Feb 2038ThursdayHorse
203924 Jan 2039MondayGoat

Conclusion

The Lunar Chinese New Year is a very important festival for these Asian countries, in fact, it is usually the most important holiday of the year. But when you understand the Lunar New Year festival, the celebrations and all the obligations that are involved you can better understand why so many prefer to have time off or take an extended holiday during this period of time.

Related Questions

Should you travel to Asia during the Chinese New Year period?

If you can avoid it, it is best not to travel to Asia during the Chinese New Year period of time, especially the time before and after the Lunar New Year. In a place like China, it can be almost impossible to get any train tickets as so many people are traveling back to their hometowns. In other places, the cost of airline tickets and hotels will be a lot more expensive than they normally are. Also, you may find that cultural sites, restaurants, and other facilities are closed or on shortened hours during this period of time.

What is the Gregorian calendar?

The Gregorian calendar is the calendar that is used in most of the world. It is named after Pope Gregory XIII. The calendar was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582.

The calendar ensures that each year there are 365 days and it takes into account the leap years

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