Chinese New Year

When is the Chinese New Year?

The modern Gregorian calendar has led the way to January 1st being the official start of the New Year. However, different calendars of the past have variations in the start of the New Year: this includes the ancient Chinese calendar. Chinese New Year is similar to the holiday on the Gregorian calendar, but with much deeper roots in history and traditions.

A New Year Based on Ancient History

Chinese New Year is thought to have started during the Shang Dynasty, which was established in 1600 B.C. The holiday has roots in religion and mythology, as well as other ancient traditions. The holiday is based on a seasonal calendar, and it officially marks the beginning of spring.

One of the oldest traditions is to appease the beast Nian—there is an ancient myth that he would come and destroy crops, and even endanger the people. Villagers would place food at their doorsteps to keep the Nian happy, and they would often wear red to scare him away. In later years, villagers also used firecrackers to scare the beast.

Evolution of Celebrations

Many people have misconceptions about Chinese New Year. While many western celebrations include fireworks and dragon costume parades, there is much more to the underlying traditions surrounding this holiday. Unlike New Year’s Day on the Gregorian calendar, celebrations can last for several days instead of one. Event details may vary depending on which one of the 12 different animals symbolizes the new year, based on the Chinese zodiac calendar.

While many of the celebrations aren’t as stringent as they were in past centuries, the basic principles of Chinese New Year remain the same. Family is often at the center of the holiday. It is not only a chance to spend time with loved ones, but the holiday also marks an occasion to remember ancestors and recent losses of family members. Most families mark Chinese New Year with a special dinner, followed by participation in community parades and other celebrations. Others choose to take the day to off to relax from school or work.

Red is one of the most commonly used colors in Chinese New Year celebrations. This is because red stands for good-luck, wealth and happiness. Presents may be given wrapped in red paper. Red decorations, as well as red fireworks are also commonplace.

Dates of Celebration

The exact date of the Chinese New Year varies because the holiday doesn’t follow the Gregorian calendar. Instead, it is based on the lunisolar calendar, which follows varying phases of the moon and sun. For this reason, Chinese New Year can occur anytime between January and February. In 2014, Chinese New Year occurs on January 31st, which is also the start of the Year of the Horse. 2015 will be the Year of the Sheep starting on February 19th.

While Chinese New Year is still important to those with roots in China, many people in western countries celebrate both the lunisolar and Gregorian New Year holidays. The difference is that Chinese New Year celebrates the traditions of Chinese culture. The holiday is now commonly referred to as the Spring Festival.

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