The Chinese New Year, also called the Spring Festival, is the longest annual holiday. It starts on the first of the Lunar Calendar and lasts until the 15th day. In 2020, the Chinese New Year calendar of events begins on January 17th and ends on February 8th.
Most of the shops in China are closed during the first five days and some don’t even re-open until the end of all the festivities. Because of this, people stock up on New Year supplies (年货—nian huo) in advance. Chinese New Year dishes also start showing up in dining tables during this time.
- 1 The Laba Festival
- 2 The Spring Festival
- 2.1 January 17th: Little New Year (小年—xiǎo nián)
- 2.2 January 24th: New Year’s Eve (除夕—chúxì)
- 2.3 January 25th: Spring Festival (春节—chūn jié)
- 2.4 January 26th: To the in-laws (迎婿日—yíng xù rì)
- 2.5 January 27th: Day of the Rat (鼠日—shǔ rì)
- 2.6 January 28th: Day of the Sheep (羊日—yáng rì)
- 2.7 January 29th: Break Five (破五—pò wǔ)
- 2.8 January 30th: Day of the Horse (马日—mǎ rì)
- 2.9 January 31st: Day of the Human (人日—rén rì)
- 2.10 February 1st: Day of the Millet (谷日节—gǔ rì jié)
- 2.11 February 2nd: Providence Health (天公生—tiān gōng shēng)
- 2.12 February 3rd: Stone Festival (石头节—shí tou jié)
- 2.13 February 4th: Son-in-law Day (子婿日—zǐ xù rì)
- 2.14 February 5th-7th: Lantern Festival Preparations
- 2.15 February 8th: Lantern Festival (元宵节—yuán xiāo jié)
The Laba Festival
In Chinese tradition, the Laba Festival (腊八节—Làbā jié) marks the start of the Spring Festival. It falls on December 8th, 2019 on the Lunar Calendar or January 2nd, 2020 on the Solar (Gregorian) Calendar. During the festival, people pray to ancestors and gods and hold memorial ceremonies to express desires of fortune and a good harvest.
Laba porridge (腊八粥—Làbā zhōu) is the main food for the festival. It is made of several types of grains including red beans, red dates, and husked rice. Other dishes with Laba as the primary ingredient such as Laba tofu (腊八豆腐—Làbā dòufu), noodles (腊八面—Làbā miàn) and wheat kernel rice (麦仁饭—Mài rén fàn) are also served during the occasion.
The festival is pagan in nature, but it has been integrated into religions such as Daoism and Buddhism. Hence, it is practiced by the majority of the population across the nation.
The Spring Festival
Following the Laba Festival, the Little New Year kicks off the main festivities on January 17th. The Spring Festival falls on January 25th this year. To help you plan your celebration, here’s a Chinese New Year calendar of important activities:
|SOLAR DATE (2020)||LUNAR DATE||TITLE|
|January 17th||December 23rd||Little New Year (小年—xiǎo nián)|
|January 24th||December 30th||New Year’s Eve (除夕—chúxì)|
|January 25th||January 1st||Spring Festival (春节—chūn jié)|
|January 26th||January 2nd||To the in-laws (迎婿日—yíng xù rì)|
|January 27th||January 3rd||Day of the Rat (鼠日—shǔ rì)|
|January 28th||January 4th||Day of the Sheep (羊日—yáng rì)|
|January 29th||January 5th||Break Five (破五—pò wǔ)|
|January 30th||January 6th||Day of the Horse (马日—mǎ rì)|
|January 31st||January 7th||Day of the Human (人日—rén rì)|
|February 1st||January 8th||Day of the Millet (谷日节—gǔ rì jié)|
|February 2nd||January 9th||Providence Health (天公生—tiān gōng shēng)|
|February 3rd||January 10th||Stone Festival (石头节—shí tou jié)|
|February 4th||January 11th||Son-in-law Day (子婿日—zǐ xù rì)|
|February 5th-7th||January 12th-14th||Lantern Festival Preparations|
|February 8th||January 15th||Lantern Festival (元宵节—yuán xiāo jié)|
Each of the 15 days for the Spring Festival is designated a specific activity or tradition. Although they vary between regions, here is a summary of what may be on the calendar.
January 17th: Little New Year (小年—xiǎo nián)
Before, social classes celebrated the Little New Year on different dates of the Chinese New Year calendar. Government officials celebrated the occasion on the 23rd, the common folk on the 24th, and fishermen on the 25th.
- Lunar date: December 23rd (腊月二十三—là yuè èr shí sān)
- Solar (Gregorian) date: January 17th, 2020
- Activities and traditions: The day is mainly reserved prayers and traditions. People pray to the Stove God (祭灶—jì zào) and clean their homes to sweep away bad luck (扫年—sǎo nián).
- Food: Sugar melons (糖瓜—táng guā) or stove candy (灶糖—Zào táng) is a staple snack during this day in addition to baked wheat cakes (火烧 – huǒ shāo) and tofu soup (豆腐汤—dòufu tang).
January 24th: New Year’s Eve (除夕—chúxì)
Depending on the cycle of the moon, New Year’s Eve falls either on the 29th or 30th on the Lunar December of the Chinese New Year calendar. Regardless, it is also referred to as the 30th of the year (大年三十—dà nián sān shí)
- Lunar date: December 30th (腊月三十—là yuè sān shí)
- Solar (Gregorian) date: January 24th, 2020
- Activities and traditions: The reunion dinner takes place on this day. After the most important dinner of the year, children receive red pockets and the whole family stays up late to welcome the New Year.
- Food: Everyone’s favorite dishes are served during the reunion dinner.
January 25th: Spring Festival (春节—chūn jié)
This day was originally known as the Yuán Dàn (元旦) as “yuán” means “the beginning.” Today, Yuán Dàn is used to refer to the New Year of the Solar (Gregorian) Calendar.
- Lunar date: January 1st (正月初一—zhēng yuè chū yī)
- Solar (Gregorian) date: January 25th, 2020
- Activities and traditions: Firecrackers signify the beginning of the New Year as people go around the neighborhood to say greetings and blessings. In ancient China, folks used to record and study the weather, stars, and the moon to predict the fortunes of the year. The practice was referred to as hàn suì (占岁).
- Food: The dishes served from last night are consumed to go with Tusu Wine (屠苏酒—tú sū jiǔ).
- Superstitions and beliefs: You are prohibited from cleaning on this day as it is equivalent to sweeping away good luck.
January 26th: To the in-laws (迎婿日—yíng xù rì)
In the northern regions of China, this day is celebrated on the 3rd of Lunar January of the Chinese New Year calendar. There are several traditions also that take place during this day.
- Lunar date: January 2nd (正月初二—zhēng yuè chū èr)
- Solar (Gregorian) date: January 26th, 2020
- Activities and traditions: A married daughter has to bring her husband and their children to her parents’ home on this day. She must bring a gift bag of crackers and candies for the mother to distribute to neighbors. The modesty of the gift expresses that it is the thought that counts and represents the daughter’s longing for her hometown.
- Food: The daughter, her husband, and their children eat lunch together with her parents as she must go back to her husband’s home before dinner.
January 27th: Day of the Rat (鼠日—shǔ rì)
There are many interesting Chinese folklores, but perhaps one of the most fascinating would be the lore that rats marry on the 27th of January. However, unlike other festivities in China, this one has no specific food associated with it.
- Lunar date: January 3rd (正月初三—zhēng yuè chū sān)
- Solar (Gregorian) date: January 27th, 2020
- Activities and traditions: People share their harvest with rats by leaving grains and crackers in corners.They will then go to bed early so as not to disturb the “wedding.” In return, the rats will not bother them throughout the year.
January 28th: Day of the Sheep (羊日—yáng rì)
Like most other nations, China also has a mythology that explains the world’s existence. In Chinese mythology, Nǚwā (女娲) created the world and made sheep on the fourth day. This day in January is when they celebrate such creation.
- Lunar date: January 4th (正月初四—zhēng yuè chū sì)
- Solar (Gregorian) date: January 28th, 2020
- Activities and traditions: People pray to the God of Wealth on this day. They offer fruits, wine, and three types of meat. At midnight, people open their windows and eat and drink until daybreak to welcome the god.
- Food: Three tables of food are prepared to welcome the five gods (接五路—jiē wǔ lù). The first has kumquats and sugarcanes for a sweet life and a prosperous road, the second has cakes, and the third has the main course of a whole pig, whole chicken, and whole fish.
- Superstitions and beliefs: Slaughtering sheep is prohibited on this day. If the weather is fine, it is taken as a sign that sheep will be healthy this year and that the family will have a good harvest.
January 29th: Break Five (破五—pò wǔ)
Having prayed to the God of Wealth, store owners re-open their shops on this day of the Chinese New Year calendar. In ancient China, women were also allowed to go out and give New Year blessings.
- Lunar date: January 5th (正月初五—zhēng yuè chū wǔ)
- Solar (Gregorian) date: January 29th, 2020
- Food: People eat dumplings (饺子—jiao zi) on this day to bring in wealth. Chinese tradition would dictate that dumplings be consumed for five days straight. Although this custom is not strictly observed today, you are sure to find dumplings during the Spring Festival.
- Superstitions and beliefs: Some believe that taboos or activities prohibited on the other days can be performed on the Break Five, while others think it is inappropriate to work on this day.
January 30th: Day of the Horse (马日—mǎ rì)
While the sheep is said to have been created on the fourth day, according to Chinese folklore, Nǚwā created the horse on the sixth day. This day is dedicated to the existence of the horse.
- Lunar date: January 6th (正月初六—zhèng yuè chū liù)
- Solar (Gregorian) date: January 30th, 2020
- Activities and traditions: After getting enough rest from the day before, people can start working again on this day. They also offer banana boat candles and burn scraps to send the spirit of poverty away (送穷鬼—sòng qióng guǐ).
- Superstitions and beliefs: People make use of this time to clean their homes because it is believed that the God of Bathrooms (厕所神—cè suǒ shén) will visit to check on the sanitary conditions.
January 31st: Day of the Human (人日—rén rì)
Finally, per the Chinese mythology, humans were created by Nǚwā on the 7th day. The celebration of the Day of the Human originated in the Han Dynasty. It, however, continues today.
- Lunar date: January 7th (正月初七—zhēng yuè chū qī)
- Solar (Gregorian) date: January 31st, 2020
- Activities and traditions: In ancient China, people wore a hair accessory called rén sheng (人胜), especially on this day. Colorful cutouts of flowers and people were also pasted onto windows.
- Food: The main dish for this celebration is the Seven Gem Porridge (七宝羹—qī bǎo gēng). Its ingredients include seven types of vegetables namely: kale, leek, mustard leaves, celery, garlic, spring vegetable (春菜—chūn cài) and thick leaf vegetables (厚瓣菜—hòu bàn cài).
- Superstitions and beliefs: Having fair weather on this day is seen as an indicator of a safe and sound year.
February 1st: Day of the Millet (谷日节—gǔ rì jié)
As an agricultural society, the millet grain was highly regarded in ancient China and this day on the Chinese New Year calendar is believed to be the millet grain’s birthday.
- Lunar date: January 8th (正月初八—zhēng yuè chū ba)
- Solar (Gregorian) date: February 1st, 2020
- Activities and traditions: As a show of respect to nature, pets like fish and birds are released back to the wild. People also bring children to rural areas in order to make them appreciate farmers and agriculture.
- Superstitions and beliefs: A fair weather on the Day of the Millet is seen as a sign of a bountiful harvest. On the other hand, grey skies should be taken as a warning for a year of losses.
February 2nd: Providence Health (天公生—tiān gōng shēng)
This day is said to be the birthday of the highest god, the Jade Emperor (玉皇大帝—yù huáng dà dì). In Daoism, the emperor is the ruler of the universe. Hence, this day involves a widespread celebration.
- Lunar date: January 9th (正月初九—zhēng yuè chū jiu)
- Solar (Gregorian) date: February 2nd, 2020
- Activities and traditions: Ceremonies for the Jade Emperor are performed on this day. In some regions, women would bring aromatic flower candles to natural wells, harbors, or open spaces to pray to the gods.
- Superstitions and beliefs: Everyone has to fast and bathe before praying. When offering meat, the animal must be male.
February 3rd: Stone Festival (石头节—shí tou jié)
The Chinese term for “ten” (十—shí) is a homophone of the term for stone (石) so this day is believed to be the birthday of the rock. Interesting indeed; there is even bread associated with this celebration.
- Lunar date: January 10th (正月初十—zhēng yuè chū shí)
- Solar (Gregorian) date: February 3rd, 2020
- Activities and traditions: In some regions, people freeze a clay jar onto a smooth stone a night prior to the Stone Festival. The following morning, ten young persons carry the jar around. If the jar does not fall, it is taken as a sign of a bountiful harvest.
- Food: Baked bread (馍饼—mó bǐng) is usually served as the meal for lunch. This is believed to make the road to wealth open and smooth.
- Superstitions and beliefs: On this day, you are forbidden from using tools made of stone such as rollers and millstones.
February 4th: Son-in-law Day (子婿日—zǐ xù rì)
This day is more like a family day, or a father’s day in reverse, that instead of kids and mom’s treating the dad, it would be the fathers who take their daughters and sons-in-law to dinner on this day.
- Lunar date: January 11th (正月十一—zhēng yuè shí yī)
- Solar (Gregorian) date: February 4th, 2020
- Food: This day is a time dedicated to in-laws and leftover food from Providence Health is usually warmed for this occasion.
February 5th-7th: Lantern Festival Preparations
The lantern release is very reminiscent of the animation Tangle, but China has a more interesting way of celebrating since people start crafting their lanterns during this period to prepare for the Lantern Festival (元宵节 – Yuán xiāo jié).
- Lunar date: January 12th-14th (正月十二-十四—zhèng yuè shí’èr—shí’sì)
- Solar (Gregorian) date: February 5th-7th, 2020
- Superstitions and beliefs: Customarily, people make noise on the 11th, build light sheds on the 12th, light lanterns on the 13th, light is bright on the 14th, a full moon on the 15th, and end the lights on the 16th. This is in accordance with a saying that has a nice rhyme in Chinese and sums up the activites of the said days.
February 8th: Lantern Festival (元宵节—yuán xiāo jié)
This festival used to last for 10 days during the Ming Dynasty. Today, the celebrations go on for five days. The culminating would be the release of lanterns that the people labored on for four days. Such a majestic scene!
- Lunar date: January 15th (正月十五—zhēng yuè shí wǔ)
- Solar (Gregorian) date: February 8th, 2020
- Activities and traditions: Lanterns of different shapes and sizes are plentiful during the festival. Lantern Riddles (猜灯谜—cāi dēng mí) is a game played by all ages during the occasion. Gazing at the full moon is also a popular activity.
- Food: Yuan xiao are glutinous rice balls that are named after the festival. They can be boiled, steamed, or fried and are consumed as desserts.
- Superstitions and beliefs: The Chinese term for “lanterns” (天灯—tiān dēng) sounds similar to the term for “add children” (添丁—tiān dīng). Couples light sky lanterns in hopes of bearing children to add to the family.