When Is Chinese New Year?

Featured Article, Seasonal, This Week in History, Traditions
on February 5, 2013

If you find yourself in the middle of Chinatown during the Chinese New Year, there’s no need to check your calendar.

When is Chinese New Year? The traditional Chinese New Year takes place on the second new moon following the Winter Solstice and originated with the traditional Chinese calendar, which, according to History.com, was a complex timepiece whose “parameters were set according to the lunar phases as well as the solar solstices and equinoxes.” Other factors that affected the traditional Chinese calendar include Yin and Yang and the Chinese zodiac. Different emperors would vary the calendar, and often different regions would use different calendars to mark the new year. Each new year was represented by one of the 12 zodiacal symbols: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.

The modern Chinese New Year. By 1912, the use of the Gregorian calendar became standard in China, and Jan. 1 became the official New Year’s Day in China. In 1949, the Chinese government forbade the celebration of the traditional Chinese New Year, but by the end of the 20th century, the Chinese government changed course. In 1996, China instituted a week-long vacation during the holiday and called it the Spring Festival. The dates of the Spring Festival are established by the lunar/solar calculations of the traditional calendar.

The celebration. Unlike New Year’s celebrations that take place on Jan. 1 in the United States that last for one evening of partying followed by an afternoon of football viewing and Alka-Seltzer, the Chinese New Year celebration lasts from the middle of the last month of the previous year to the middle of the first month of the new year, with the emphasis on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day like Western contemporaries. By the time the actual New Year’s Day comes around, several days have already been spent preparing and celebrating. Traditionally, the Chinese New Year was the most important festival on the calendar—a time for families to feast and reunite.