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As many as 3 billion people would sweep across the globe every year as the time for the Spring Festival arrives: the Chinese New Year is a gala affair for more than a billion population of China and the Chinese communities scattered across the globe.
A week-long holiday extends to over a month-long celebration with the excitement and eagerness blooming months in advance of this humongous annual event. People would stock up on New Year supplies as stores remain closed and you could get the waft of New Year dishes and desserts flowing in from the direction of kitchens days in advance.
What are the dates of the Chinese New Year? How do the Chinese observe New Year? Here is everything you need to know about Chinese New Year 2021.
Chinese New Year 2021 dates
The Chinese New Year, a national holiday in China, is marked by a long list of specific festivities and observance of traditions in the days leading up to the Spring Festival and following the New Year’s Day. The date of the new year is decided upon by following the lunar calendar during the months of January and February.
Since the New Year holiday is on the second new moon after the winter solstice (December 21), the varies from year to year. In the year 2021, the Chinese New Year or the Spring Festival will be celebrated on February 12th. It starts with the onset of the Little Year and culminates in the Lantern Festival. Here are some of the important dates during the Spring Festival 2021.
February 4th: Little Year (小年 / xiǎo nián)
Lunar date: December 23rd
The Little Year on February 4th will kick off the festivities of the Chinese New Year 2021. A day of prayer ceremonies, people clean their houses on this day to keep bad luck at bay. In fact, there is a popular Cantonese saying “Wash away the dirt on nin ya baat (the 28th day of month 12)”. A special stove candy made of malt, also termed as sugar melons, is also prepared on this particular day.
February 11th: New Year’s Eve (除夕 / chúxì)
Lunar date: December 30th
The New Year’s Eve or the 30th of the year is widely known as the day of the primary meal of the year or the annual Reunion Dinner. It is somewhat comparable to the Thanksgiving Dinner in western culture. After dinner, families stay awake till midnight to welcome the new year together.
February 12th: Spring Festival (春节 / chūn jié)
Lunar date: January 1st
The Chinese New Year Day or the Day of the Spring Festival officially begins at midnight. The night sky is lit up with glittering colors of fireworks as friends and family greet each other and pray for the wellbeing of the elderly in the family.
February 13th: To the in-law’s (迎婿日 / yíng xù rì)
Lunar date: January 2nd
On this day, traditionally, married daughters would pay a visit to their paternal house along with their husband and children.
February 14th: Day of the Rat (鼠日 / shǔ rì)
Lunar date: January 3rd
As the folk tales go, people believe that rats marry on this particular day and hence would leave small crumbs of food around the corner of their houses to feed their rats. In rural areas, people also burn paper offerings over trash fires as it is the day of Chikou or Red Mouth (the God of Blazing Wrath). Some would also start worshipping the God of Wealth from this day on.
February 15th: Day of the Sheep (羊日 / yáng rì)
Lunar date: January 4th
As sheep were created on the 4th day of the year as per Chinese mythology, it is known as the Day of the Sheep. The five gods are welcomed on this day with three tables of food, one of kumquats and sugarcanes, the second of cake, and the other of main course with pig, fish, chicken, and soup.
February 16th: Break Five (破五 / pò wǔ)
Lunar date: January 5th
Once the prayers for the God of Wealth conclude, shops and businesses would open up to usher in a new wave of wealth and prosperity. People would mark the day by eating jiaozi and dumplings.
February 17th: Day of the Horse (马日 / mǎ rì)
Lunar date: January 6th
Most of the official work restarts on this day in the business world after the ‘Break Five’. A common belief is that throwing away all old things on this day would ring out the spirit of Poverty.
February 19th: Day of the Millet (谷日节 / gǔ rì jié)
Lunar date: January 8th
At places where stores didn’t open after the first three days of celebration, they would start resuming business on this day onwards. Grain, being highly valued in Chinese society for ages, some would host lunch or dinners while others make an effort to enrich their knowledge of agriculture by visiting rural areas.
February 20th: Providence Health (天公生 / tiān gōng shēng)
Lunar date: January 9th
The sovereign ruler – Jade Emperor is said to have been born on this day. So, all activities revolve around worshipping the highest God of the Universe. For Hokkien people, the day is even more significant than the day of the Chinese New Year itself.
February 26th: Lantern Festival (元宵节 / yuán xiāo jié)
Lunar date: January 15th
The Lantern Festival or the “Shangyuan Festival” or Yuan Xiao Festival sees people hitting the streets with their lanterns as thousands of floating lanterns would gradually festoon the evening sky, filling it with brightness and bringing happiness in the hearts of the people. Being a full moon day, moon-gazing while flying your lanterns makes for a more awesome end to the festival. Desserts of glutinous rice balls called yuan xiao (same as the festival) are enjoyed on the day.
Chinese New Year 2021 Animal
Every Chinese year is identified with a Zodiac sign, a repeating 12-year cycle of animals: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig.
Chinese Year 2021 is the year of the Ox, more specifically Metal Ox.
How do people celebrate Chinese New Year?
During this course of the Chinese New Year celebration, mainland China enjoys a week-long holiday known as the Golden Week. Holidays in the Philippines, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and others observe one to three days of holiday during Chinese New Year.
From bylanes to home interiors, every corner gives it away. From the iconic red decorations to massive parades, from homecoming to lighting of lanterns here’s how the Chinese carry out the exuberant celebrations during their New Year, a festival with over 3,000 years of history.
Chinese New Year decorations
Families perform spring cleaning around the house and get busy with adorning the space with festive decorations. Red is the dominating color during the festival as it is considered to be auspicious. So, you’d find red lanterns and posters in every shop and household.
Red Spring Festival couplets are pasted at entrances as a sign of good luck in the coming year. You’d also find ‘Fu’ character pictures and red window paper-cuts amidst the decorations as a sign of prosperity. 2021, being the year of Ox, many decorations would also feature the animal sign.
Family reunion dinner
Homecoming is primary in the celebration of Chinese New Year as families gather for the annual sumptuous reunion dinner on New Year’s Eve. Most feasts would also include a communal hot pot which signifies the coming together of the family for the dinner. Fish is a staple, however, it will not polished off as people go by the belief ‘let there be surplus every year’ (“surplus” and “fish” sound the same in Chinese). Dumplings and rice cakes are also indispensable for most people.
Firecrackers color the sky towards the end of the day to welcome the New Year and do away with all things old and evil. In Mainland China and many places where the Chinese diaspora congregate, the night will be spent watching CCTV’s New Year’s Gala, arguably the most-watched show in the world, bringing celebrations to home with a live broadcast of musical and dance performances.
Gifts and red envelopes
Chinese New Year is also the time of gift exchanging and red envelopes gifted during this time of the year is said to herald good luck. As generations progressed, people have welcomed newer ways of exchanging wishes and gifts. One common practice these days is to send digital red envelopes.
The children would also be gifted ‘luck’ money by the elders, wrapped in red packets, which they can later spend on toys, clothes, snacks, or even save up for future educational needs.
What to keep in mind for the Chinese New Year?
What is considered unlucky during Chinese New Year?
Even in a world dominated by science and technology, people resort to beliefs of their own and it is only humane to be respectful towards these superstitions even if you don’t indulge in one. Chinese New Year, too, is the time of several such traditional beliefs, both auspicious and the ill-fated ones, as the beginning of the year is considered to affect the rest of the year. Here are a few that you should keep in mind:
- Gifts and money are exchanged as a ‘good luck’ wish.
- On the day of the Spring Festival, you shouldn’t clean your house as the act is said to sweep away all the good fortune that the New Year brings with it.
- On the fourth day or the day of the sheep, it is forbidden to slaughter sheep for meat.
- Fair weather on the Day of millet means you’d be blessed with a wholesome harvest in the next season.
- In Chinese, Lanterns (tiān dēng) sound similar to ‘adding children’ (tiān dīng). So, many families light lanterns with the hope of bringing a new member into the family.
- Amongst food items, fish is considered lucky for New Year’s Eve, and so is the lighting of fireworks and firecrackers.
How to greet Happy New Year to your Chinese friends?
In Mandarin, you can say gong xi fa cai (恭喜发财), or wishing you a prosperous New Year. Alternatively, you can simply say xin nian kuai le (新年快乐), meaning “happy new year”.