Friday marks the start of the Lunar New Year, also known in China as the Chinese New Year or Spring Festival, China’s biggest holiday.
During normal times, the world’s largest human migration would take place as hundreds of millions of people make their way to celebrate with family in China. Things will undoubtedly look different this year, because of the ongoing pandemic. Nonetheless, the holiday will still be celebrated in the world’s most populous nation and by millions of people of Chinese descent all over the world.
Here’s what you need to know about the Chinese New Year.
When is the Lunar New Year?
This year, Lunar New Year begins on Friday, Feb. 12. Officially, the holiday runs for three days, but unofficially it is celebrated over the course of two weeks. It follows the lunar calendar, so the exact dates change every year, but it usually occurs in late January or February, around the new moon closest to the beginning of spring.
What is the History of Chinese New Year?
Chinese New Year is a centuries-old festival. The holiday was born out the myth of Nian (also the Chinese word for “year”), a beast that would appear every New Year’s Eve and attack villagers. Legend has it that to scare away the beast, the villagers would put up red banners and explode firecrackers and bang drums.
New Year traditions vary across Chinese communities, but most celebrations involve fireworks, family reunions and feasts, and paying respects to one’s ancestors. The New Year is also a chance to prepare for good fortune and luck in the coming year.
Each year of the Chinese calendar is assigned an animal of the zodiac, running in a 12-year cycle.
In 2019, it was the Year of the Pig and 2020 was the Year of the Rat. This year marks the Year of the Ox (so did the years 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997 and 2009). Those born in these years are said to be low-key, hard-working, kind and honest. The numbers 1 and 4 are considered lucky for them, as well as the colors blue, yellow and green.
Some famous oxen include: former President Barack Obama, Princess Diana, George Clooney, Meryl Streep and BTS’ Jung Kook.
What countries celebrate Lunar New Year?
In East and Southeast Asia, Brunei, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, North Korea, Singapore, South Korea and Vietnam put on festivities. During South Korea’s Lunar New Year, which is called “Seollal,” Koreans will don traditional garb call hanbok and play a traditional board game called yunnori. During Vietnam’s “Tet Nguyen Dan” festival, people clean their homes to get rid of bad luck and eat banh chung, a sweet sticky rice. Traditions and customs vary by country, but across the board the holiday centers on reuniting with family and honoring ancestors.
How can I wish someone a Happy Chinese New Year?
“Gong hei fat choy” is the most common Chinese New Year greeting in Cantonese, which is spoken in parts of southern China and Hong Kong. It directly translates to “wishing you great happiness and prosperity.” In Mandarin, the same greeting is “gong xi fa cai” (pronounced gong she fa tsai).
There are a few other ways to wish someone a Happy Chinese New Year.
In Mandarin, “Happy Chinese New Year” is “xin nian kuai le” (pronounced shin nee-an kwai le), which is a formal greeting typically used for strangers and means “New Year happiness.” A shortened version is “xin nian hao” (pronounced shin nee-an how) is more often used for friends and family. “Guo nian hao” (pronounced gor nee-an how) is also used as a New Year greeting and means “pass the New Year well.”