Whether you are a dragon, a monkey or a rat, Chinese New Year is always spectacular and loud. 

Chinese New Year begins on the first day of the first lunar month in the Chinese calendar and ends with the 'Lantern Festival' on the 15th day.

Celebrations

On the first day of Chinese New Year, families visit the senior members of their extended family. Some invite a lion dance troupe to usher in the New Year and expel evil spirits. For example in Hong Kong, married family members give red packets containing cash to children and teenagers in the family. Fireworks and firecrackers are also very popular at this time.

Chinese legend tells of the Nián, a man-eating beast which came out once a year to prey on humans. Eventually people learnt to scare the Nián away with explosions, fireworks and the use of the colour red, giving rise to the traditional New Year celebrations.

  • 19 February 2015 (Goat)
  • 8 February 2016 (Monkey)
  • 28 January 2017 (Rooster)
  • 16 February 2018 (Dog)
  • 5 February 2019 (Pig)
  • 25 January 2020 (Rat)

The Chinese calendar

The Gregorian calendar is used in the People's Republic of China for administrative and commercial purposes but the traditional Chinese calendar is used for religious purposes and for agriculture. Astronomical calculations for the Chinese calendar are based on Latitude 120º E.

Leap months

The traditional Chinese calendar resembles the Hebrew calendar in having ordinary years with 12 months and 353, 354, or 355 days, and leap years with 13 months and 383, 384, or 385 days. Days are measured from midnight to midnight. The first day of the month is the date of the new Moon. The tropical year is divided into 24 solar terms, each of which spans 15º of solar longitude, which are given names that refer to the seasons or weather.

Leap years have 13 months. To determine if a year is a leap year the number of new Moons between the 11th month in one year and the 11th month in the following year are calculated. If there are 13 new Moons from the start of the 11th month in the first year to the start of the 11th month in the second year, a leap month must be inserted.

Time on a loop

Unlike most other calendars, the Chinese calendar does not count years in an infinite sequence. Instead years have names that are repeated every 60 years, corresponding to five repeats of the Chinese zodiac cycle of 12 animals (in sequence they are: rat, ox, tiger, hare or rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, pig). This system for naming years has been in use for about the last 2000 years, but is traditionally extrapolated back to 2637 BCE when the calendar was supposed to have been invented.

The current 60-year cycle started on 2 February 1984. However a counting system is also now in use which has year 1 as the first year of the Yellow Emperor in 2698 BCE. In this system 2015 is 2698 + 2015 = Chinese year 4713.

Calendars from around the world

The information above is an excerpt from the Museum's e-book  Calendars from around the world, written by Alan Longstaff