The History Behind the Chinese New Year

This year the Chinese New Year was on February 5. In contrast to much of the Western world, which follows the Gregorian Calendar, the great majority of the Eastern one follows lunar calendars that measure the passing of time according to the monthly cycles of the moon’s phases. Due to this, the Chinese New Year does not take place on a set date, but alternates yearly. The lunar new year is on the same day that a new moon appears, usually an occasion between January 21 and February 20.

It is important to note, however, that this new year applies to China only. While its date might also coincide with that of other countries, like South Korea and Taiwan, most Asian countries have their own distinct dates for celebrating the new year based on their own country-specific lunar calendars. Nevertheless, despite these differences, the Chinese New Year still had a major influence on the customs and the proceedings involved in the new year celebrations of neighboring nations.

This year, it is also the Year of the Pig. The Chinese have their own zodiac, called 生肖, or shēngxiào. It is an approximation of the orbital period of Jupiter, the largest planet of the Milky Way. While it shares many similarities with the Western zodiac, there are also several key differences.

For instance, the Chinese is zodiac is completely composed of animals, while this is only partly the case with the astrological signs of the Western zodiac. Unlike the Western zodiac, the Chinese one does not classify itself based on constellations in the ecliptic plane, and has a 12-part cycle that takes place yearly and not monthly. The Chinese zodiac assigns an animal and respective attributes to every year, the animals being: rax, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. This means that the next Chinese new year will mark the beginning of a new cycle of the Chinese zodiac.

The Chinese also have another classification system, which involves a 10-year cycle of heavenly stems. These stems are assigned, and are associated with five elements of Chinese astrology: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. Under this system, each year is also classified on whether they are Yin or Yang, passive or active. The elements rotate biannually, while their yin-yang association alternates yearly. This year, it is a Yin Earth year.

The Chinese New Year is one of the largest and most important festivities in China, an event that often beckons several days’ worth of celebration. The holiday usually lasts two weeks, and involves both public events and private gatherings between friends and family. The latter plays a particularly vital role, seeing as the Chinese New Year is regarded as a time to strengthen one’s familial bonds.

While there are many particularly memorable dates, one of the most important dates related to the Chinese New Year is New Year’s Eve. On the night of this day, there is a reunion dinner between all family members of all direct and extended branches. This dinner is called a 年夜飯, or nián yè fàn. It is an elaborate affair that involves many members of the family, and usually features a grand array of delicious foods.

However, there are often some staples that always have to be present. For instance, there are almost always fruits like mandarins, melons and apples, seeing as they signify good luck, fertility and peace. Another staple is often 餃子, or jiaozi, a type of Chinese dumpling. These are eaten because they symbolize wealth and good fortune since they look like ancient yuanbao, the currency of imperial China.

Additionally, another popular dish is 粘糕, or niángāo, a glutinous rice pudding. It is very popular in the New Year because it is pronounced similarly to 年高, which literally means “high year.” This implies that by eating these cakes, one can improve themselves and have an even better prospects in the upcoming year. This dinner also always has to have a large, completely-cooked fish. This is because there is a Chinese saying that goes “年年有餘,” or niánnián yǒu yú, which means ‘may there be surplus every year.’ The last character, surplus, sounds a lot like the character 魚 or yú.

Overall, the Chinese New Year is a vibrant representation of Chinese culture, a manifestation of some of its most meaningful customs and traditions. This was also clearly seen in the ANS celebration of this holiday, which you can read more about in the article written by fellow Eye of the Tiger writer Elinor Ketelhöhn.


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