Chinese New Year begins on 28 January 2017 and will be a public holiday in several countries in East Asia. To see when different countries have public holidays for Chines New Year, use our comprehensive list of Lunar New Year holidays by day.
Each year in the Chinese calendar is represented by one of twelve animals in the Chinese Zodiac. 2017 will be the “year of the Rooster”.
The Chinese New Year has a great history. In other traditions, by this time in the year, most resolutions have been forgotten or put back to the following year. However, all hope is not lost, as there’s a second chance to get it right with the celebration of Chinese New Year.
The Chinese New Year is celebrated by almost a sixth of the world’s population and is very similar to the Western one, swathed in traditions and rituals.
The origin of the Chinese New Year is itself ancient and obscured by the amount of time. It is popularly recognized as the Spring Festival and celebrations last 15 days.
Preparations tend to begin a month from the date of the Chinese New Year (similar to a Western Christmas), when people start buying presents, decoration materials, food and clothing. A huge clean-up gets underway days before the New Year, when Chinese houses are cleaned from top to bottom, to sweep away any traces of bad luck, and doors and windowpanes are given a new coat of paint, usually red.
The eve of the New Year is perhaps the most exciting part of the event, as anticipation creeps in. Here, traditions and rituals are very carefully observed in everything from food to clothing.
Rituals include cleaning the house, putting up new posters of “door gods” on front doors, fireworks before the family union dinner, which should be at least 10 course meal with a whole fish entrée symbolizing the abundance of the coming year.
It’s usual to wear something red as this colour is meant to ward off evil spirits – but black and white are out, as these are associated with mourning. After dinner, the family sit up for the night playing cards, board games or watching TV programmes dedicated to the occasion. At midnight, the sky is lit up by fireworks.
In China, many people will travel back from the cities to their home towns. This results in the world’s largest annual human migration.
On the day itself, an ancient custom called Hong Bao, meaning Red Packet, takes place. This involves married couples giving children and unmarried adults money in red envelopes. Then the family begins to say greetings from door to door, first to their relatives and then their neighbours. Like the Western saying “let bygones be bygones,” at Chinese New Year, grudges are very easily cast aside.
Traditional foods eaten during the Spring festival are fish (the Chinese word for ‘fish’ sounds like the word for ‘surplus,’ so the eating of fish is supposed to bring a surplus of money and good luck); Chinese dumplings (as their shape is said to be like that of silver ingots, which were used as money in ancient Chinese); spring rolls; rice cakes and rice balls.
The end of the New Year is marked by the Festival of Lanterns, which is a celebration with singing, dancing and lantern shows.
In China, the rules governing what days are taken for Chinese New Year as public holidays changed in late 2013. From 2014, the festival will be a holiday on the first three days of the first lunar month of each year. Since 2008, the three-day holiday had started on the last day of the lunar year.
In 2001, President Abdurrahman Wahid made Chinese New Year an optional holiday. He also lifted a ban on the display of Chinese characters and the import of Chinese publications. In 2002, President Megawati Soekarnoputri declared Chinese New Year as a national holiday starting from 2003
In Indonesia, Chinese New Year is known as ‘Imlek’ and has become a popular holiday celebrated by all Indonesians, not just those of Chinese descent.