Friday marks the start of the Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year or Spring Festival, China’s biggest holiday.
During this time, the world’s largest human migration will take place as hundreds of millions of Chinese people make their way home to celebrate with family. The holiday is also celebrated by millions of people around the world, including in Vietnam, South Korea and by people of Chinese decent all over the world including in the U.S.
Here’s what you need to know about the Chinese New Year.
When is the Chinese New Year?
This year, Chinese New Year begins on Friday, Feb. 16 and lasts until Sunday, Feb. 18. Officially, the holiday runs for three days, but unofficially it is celebrated over the course of two weeks. Chinese New Year 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 Chinese New Year?
Chinese New Year is a centuries old festival that celebrates the new year according to the Chinese calendar. 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.
Chinese 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 on the Chinese calendar is assigned an animal of the zodiac, which is repeated every 12 years. Last year was the Year of the Rooster and 2018 is the Year of the Dog. The years 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006 were also assigned Year of the Dog. Those born in these years are said to be loyal, honest, selfless, cautious, and prudent. But they are also meant to have poor communication skills, and can leave an impression of stubbornness. The numbers 3, 4, and 9 are considered lucky, as well as the colors red, green, and purple.
Some famous dogs include: Winston Churchill, Mother Theresa, Elvis Presley, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Steven Spielberg, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Justin Bieber.
What countries celebrate Chinese New Year?
Chinese New Year celebrations are not limited to China. The Lunar New Year is celebrated all over the world. 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,” Vietnamese 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.”