Chinese New Year: how is the date calculated and what are the traditions that characterize the holiday?

New Year’s Eve is there China’s main popular festival. The celebration falls between January 21st and February 20th, but the exact date changes every year, because it is based on the ancient lunisolar calendar in force until 1912. In China the celebration includes three days of national holiday and gives rise to great celebrations. On the evening of Christmas Eve, families gather for to have dinner together and on the following day parades of allegorical floats and other shows are organised. The complete cycle of celebrations lasts fifteen days. Many new year traditions are also observed by Chinese communities abroadincluding those resident in Italy.

The Chinese calendar and the date of the New Year

The People’s Republic of China adopts the Gregorian calendar, the same one we use in the West. However, for holidays, including New Year, the Chinese still follow the calendar that was in force until 1912. Being a lunisolar calendarthe date of the beginning of the year always falls in the same period, but not on the same day (as happens in our country for Easter).

Chinese calendar page (credits Orienomesh-w)

In this regard, it must be remembered that lunisolar calendars measure the passage of time based on to the phases of the Moon, but, unlike “pure” lunar calendars, they add “extra” days to adapt the count of days to the solar year. The precaution is necessary because a lunar month, that is, a complete rotation of our satellite, lasts 29 and a half days. Consequently, twelve months have a duration of 354 or 355 days and, since the lunar year is shorter than the solar one, days (or entire months) are added to adapt it.

In the Chinese lunisolar calendar, each year consists of twelve months (thirteen when there are thirteen full moons between the eleventh month of one year and the eleventh month of the next). Each month begins with the new moon and the year begins at second new moon after the winter solstice (the third in thirteen-month years). Therefore, the New Year date is movable, but falls always between January 21st and February 20th. In 2024 it happens February 10.

It should also be remembered that each year is associated with a sign of the Chinese zodiac, according to a cycle that lasts twelve years. The year starting 2024 is theyear of the dragon.

The dragon of the Chinese zodiac (credits Angelus)

New Year’s customs in China

The officially called Chinese New Year Spring festival, has very ancient origins. The first mentions of the celebration date back to the time of Han dynasty (between the 3rd century BC and the 3rd century AD) and over the centuries numerous traditions linked to the anniversary have developed. Currently, in China the New Year predicts three days of national holiday (which, associated with the weekend, turn into a week’s holiday) and generally those who live in other areas of the country take advantage of the holiday to return home. Customs vary depending on the region, but some traditions are widespread throughout the country, such as organizing a dinner with the whole family the evening before. Abundant food is placed on the tables and there is oftenhot potthe pot with spicy sauce in which skewers and other foods are dipped.

During the New Year’s day, the city organizes the Lion dancethat is, the parade of an allegorical float representing a lion, and they light up out pyrotechnicsvery widespread throughout China.

The cycle of celebrations ends on the fifteenth day, during which the Lantern Festival: families leave the house carrying with them a Chinese lantern, which the children often fly.

Lantern Festival (credits -Zest)

In the decorations for the New Year predominates Red and among the customs there is that of giving away money (sometimes only in symbolic quantities) placed inside red envelopes.

Chinese New Year outside China

New Year is not only celebrated in China, but also in many countries around the world.Far East and in Chinese communities that have emigrated to the rest of the world.

In Orient, the holiday was introduced by citizens of Chinese origin (who are very numerous in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and other territories), but it has also become popular among the rest of the population and in many countries it is recognized as a national holiday by the institutions.

Even the Chinese communities who emigrated to the West they celebrate New Year’s Eve, but generally the celebration involves other citizens to a limited extent and is not recognized by institutions, with the exception of California and the State of New York.

Lion Dance in New York

In Italythe New Year gives rise to celebrations in the cities that host the largest Chinese communities: Milan, Rome And Lawn.