The most widely used calendar system in today’s world is the Gregorian calendar. This means that in Britain and many other countries, New Year is heralded in on the 1st of January each year.
However, in Chinese and other East Asian cultures, this date passes with little fanfare for their New Year is tied in with the Lunisolar calendar, a dating system based on phases of the moon along with the time of the solar year.
So when is Chinese New Year? When did it originate? What is the Chinese Zodiac? We answer all your burning questions about one of China’s most important festivals.
What is Chinese New Year?
Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival or Lunar New Year, is a major celebration in China and other East Asian nations, as well as in countries with significant overseas Chinese populations.
It is a festival that celebrates the beginning of a new year based on the Lunisolar calendar. Traditionally a time to worship ancestors, rid the house of evil spirits, as well as gather with family to celebrate and feast.
When is Chinese New Year 2023?
Every year, Chinese New Year begins on the first new moon occurring between January and February and ends on the first full moon of the Lunisolar calendar, spanning a total of 15 days. Since the calendar is based upon phases of the moon, the exact dates of Chinese New Year vary from year to year.
In 2023, the Chinese New Year will fall on Sunday, 22nd January.
What is the origin of the Chinese New Year?
The history of Chinese New Year is said to date back some 3,500 years.
Whilst no one knows for sure exactly when Chinese New Year began, it is believed to have originated during the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC – 1045 BC). During this time, people began the tradition of carrying out various rituals on the first day of the Chinese calendar.
‘This holiday has ancient roots in China as an agricultural society. It was the occasion to celebrate the harvest, worship the gods, and ask for good harvests in times to come,’ says Yong Chen, a scholar in Asian American Studies.
However, like many festivals in China (and indeed across the world), origin stories are often accompanied by legends and myths. One of the most popular about Chinese New Year is about the mythical beast called Nian.
On New Year’s Eve, Nian was said to descend upon villages and feast upon their inhabitants, as well as their livestock and crops. Then one year, a wise old man worked out the beast was afraid of loud noises and the colour red.
As New Year approached every year onwards, the people began dressing in red, decorating their homes with red lanterns and setting off firecrackers to scare the creature away. Nian was never seen again.
What is the Chinese Zodiac?
Each year in the Chinese calendar is represented by one of the 12 zodiac animals. This means that every 12 years the cycle repeats itself returning to the first animal on the list.
The 12 zodiac animals in their correct order are as follows: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig.
What is the origin of the Chinese Zodiac?
Said to have been officially identified during the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 9 AD) some 2,000 years ago, no one knows exactly when the Chinese zodiac was created.
Once again we turn to myth and legend to discover more about the origins. An ancient Chinese folk story tells of a ‘Great Race’ organised by the Jade Emperor – one of the most important deities in traditional Chinese religion.
Every animal in the world was invited to take part but eventually, only 12 arrived at the starting line. The finishing line was the Heavenly Gate where they would reach the Emperor himself. The order in which they finish would determine the years on the calendar named after them.
Standing between them and the Heavenly Gate was a vast river they all had to cross. The Rat and the Ox set off first with the former hitching a ride on the latter’s back to traverse the waters. The Rat then leapt from the Ox’s back once dry land was reached, dashing to the Emperor’s feet and securing first place. Therefore the Rat is the first creature in the Chinese zodiac cycle, followed by the Ox.
What do the different animals represent?
Each animal in the Chinese zodiac has its unique characteristics and reputed attributes. Many Chinese people often associate the character traits of these animals with people born during their years.
For example, it is said that if you are born during the year of the Rat you are smart, quick-witted and resourceful. An important use of the zodiac animals in Chinese culture is to determine whether two people are romantically compatible.
Each animal also has lucky and unlucky things associated with it. For example, lucky numbers for those born in the year of the Ox are 1 and 4, whilst blue is an unlucky colour for them.
What animal is 2023 and what does it mean?
2023 is the year of the Rabbit and since the Rabbit is the fourth animal of the Chinese zodiac, it is therefore the fourth year of the current 12-year cycle. People born during this year are believed to be kind, quiet and elegant as well as skilful, patient and faithful.
How is Chinese New Year celebrated?
Throughout the centuries since the Shang Dynasty, the customs and traditions surrounding Chinese New Year have grown and evolved.
Since 1996, people have been granted seven consecutive days off work during the Chinese New Year to mark the celebrations. In the build-up to the festivities, people give their houses a thorough clean, symbolizing the removal of bad luck as they prepare to receive the opposite.
Red is the colour of the festival and is splashed across homes and streets in a variety of ways from lanterns to tablecloths. Families gather to dine and enjoy each other’s company and exchange gifts, such as red envelopes that contain money.
Ancestors are honoured with the burning of incense, food sacrifices and visitations to graves. On the streets, dragon and lion dances erupt to bring good fortune and prosperity, whilst billions of fireworks explode during the first few minutes of Chinese New Year.
The celebrations culminate with the Lantern Festival on the last day of Chinese New Year, as people go out at night carrying glowing paper lanterns and hanging them from temples.
Chinese New Year: What You Need to Know About the Year of the Dragon
The Chinese calendar assigns an animal to each year, in a cycle which repeats every 12 years. In 2024, it will be the turn of the mighty Dragon, which is the only mythical creature to be featured among the animals of the Chinese zodiac. Let’s look at what this can signify.
When is the Year of the Dragon?
The Chinese New Year commences on Saturday 10th February 2024. This will be the day we transition from the Year of the Rabbit to the Year of the Dragon, kicking off extravagant festivities all over the world.
What years are the Year of the Dragon?
The most recent years designated the Year of the Dragon were early 2012 to early 2013, early 2000 to early 2001, and early 1988 to early 1989. The immense cultural resonance of the dragon, and the belief that it brings good fortune, means that birth rates spike dramatically among Chinese populations around the world whenever a Year of the Dragon comes up.
Research has shown that the year 2000 saw almost 300,000 more births compared to 1999, while 2012 saw almost a million more births compared to 2011. (Interestingly, marriage rates also soared in the two years leading up to both of these Dragon years.)
What type of Dragon is 2024?
As well as being linked to an animal, each year of the Chinese calendar has a corresponding element which is also thought to influence people born in that year.
The five elements of the zodiac are wood, fire, earth, metal and water, with wood being the element of 2024. This means we’ll be entering the Year of the Wood Dragon, and the last time we saw one of those was back in 1964.
What are the character traits of a Dragon?
It’s little wonder that many parents are keen to have offspring in Dragon years because children of the Dragon are said to be imbued with many impressive and beneficial traits.
These include natural charisma, boundless energy, and inherent ambition, which in turn makes them natural leaders. Dragons are also said to be courageous, generous, passionate and romantic.
However, it’s also worth noting that the confident, go-getting nature of Dragons can also make it all too easy to veer into being domineering, self-centred, and even arrogant. Dragons can also be prickly and find it difficult to take criticism, and they can feel restless and impatient if they’re alone or don’t have people to bounce off against.
The influence of the wood element may have an additional bearing on those born in 2024. It’s believed that Wood Dragons have softer Dragon traits, and tend to be less domineering, more introverted, calmer and more diplomatic than other Dragons.
Is the Year of the Dragon lucky?
As mentioned earlier, it’s commonly believed that being born in a Year of the Dragon – no matter the associated element – can bring good fortune. Interestingly, research shows that Dragons do indeed seem to enjoy greater outcomes in life.
A paper published in 2020 by the Institute of Labor Economics in Germany delved into data sets from China and noted that ‘those born in a Dragon year are more likely to have a college education and obtain higher scores at the university entrance exam’. What’s more, these more favourable results ‘are not because of family background, student self-esteem or students’ expectations about their future’.
So, could this be down to the influence of the birth year? In a way, yes. The authors of the paper found that ‘parents of Dragon children have higher expectations for their children in comparison to other parents, and that they invest more heavily in their children in terms of time and money.’
In other words, while ‘neither the Dragon children nor their families are inherently different from other children and families’, superstitious beliefs in traits associated with the Year of the Dragon seem to spur action on the part of parents, resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy regarding success.
Where does the Dragon fit within the Chinese zodiac?
The Dragon is the fifth animal of the Chinese zodiac, and this placement comes with an origin story involving the Jade Emperor, who is the supreme ruler of Heaven in Chinese mythology. According to this story, the Jade Emperor held a race to decide the order in which animals would appear in the zodiac.
The cunning and speedy rat took first place. The ox, on whom the rat had hitched a ride, came second. The tiger took third place, and the rabbit came fourth. Only then did the dragon arrive, much to the surprise of the Jade Emperor who assumed the dragon – having the gift of flight – would have swooped to the finish line before any of the others.
The dragon explained that he had been sidetracked committing good deeds for local villagers (helping them put out a fire, according to some retellings), which allowed the other animals to finish first. The remaining places were taken, respectively, by the snake, the horse, the goat, the monkey, the rooster, the dog, and the pig.
Which famous people were born in the Year of the Dragon?
Many notable figures were born in the Year of the Dragon, from celebrities like Rihanna, Adele, John Lennon and Bruce Lee, to political figures including Martin Luther King Jr and Vladimir Putin.
Those born in the last year of the Wood Dragon, 1964, include Boris Johnson, Keanu Reeves and Christopher Eccleston.