Even though Chinese people live all over the world, there are some Chinese New Year facts that are still unknown.
For example, as you will learn in this article, the Chinese have other names for this festival.
Meanwhile, this is the most important festival in the country, as we celebrate the coming warmth of the spring season.
Likewise, it is time to get cozy with the family near the fire, tell stories, and eat a lot of food!
Similarly, the date is going to surprise you because it has multiple days!
So, let’s jump into this article and learn some facts about the Chinese New Year!
We Don’t Call It ‘Chinese New Year’
Let us start our Chinese New Year facts with its name.
So, this confuses non-Chinese people all the time.
The phrase “Chinese New Year” in English is prevalent worldwide.
However, the Chinese people don’t call this festival “Chinese New Year.”
Instead, the proper name is “Lunar New Year” or nónglì xīnnián in Mandarin, the primary Chinese language.
Because it is a lunar holiday (and not a solar), the name makes a perfect sense in English.
Meanwhile, to us Chinese, the name has more to it than that.
So, let us divide the words, so it becomes more apparent to you.
For instance, nóng means “farming: and lì is “calendar.”
Then, xīn means “new,” and nián is the word for “year.”
In other words, this is the “Farming Calendar New Year.”
“There are several reasons why this is the case,” explains Qixing, a woman I talked to in Beijing. “For example, there are different calendars,” she adds. “Different ethnic groups have their own calendars. It is also the case that this is not the official calendar.”
Because the last modern Chinese government was Western-influenced (Communism), it adopted the Western calendar.
Meanwhile, the holiday is also widely known as “Spring Festival” or chūnjié in Mainland China.
Of course, since Chinese people are all over Asia and the world, the older “Lunar New Year” is more popular.
Therefore, no “Chinese New Year” for us.
Likewise, the holiday is celebrated by non-Chinese people too!
For example, the Vietnamese people celebrate tết, which is their New Year, on the same dates!
Similarly, the Korean people have their sŏllal, which is also on the same dates.
In other words, it is beyond “Chinese.”
We Don’t All Celebrate It
So, the Lunar New Year is really something that is celebrated across China.
However, not everyone celebrates it.
Because China is a country home to diverse ethnic groups and religions, some have their own unique ones.
For example, ethnic groups like the Tibetan and Miao do not celebrate Chinese New Year, as they have different calendars.
Meanwhile, religious groups like Muslims and Christians do not celebrate this, as their religions don’t recognize Chinese religions.
“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t celebrate,” says Qixing. “In my life, everyone celebrates the festival.”
Finally, many Communist people in China do not recognize traditional holidays.
We Always Celebrate On Same Dates
Other Chinese New Year facts include its dates!
Believe it or not, Chinese people always celebrate the New Year on the same dates.
For instance, the first day of the month of Zhēngyuè marks the beginning of the New Year.
Because it falls between 21 January and 20 February on the Gregorian calendar, people assume it is the same for the Chinese.
The confusion comes from the fact that China uses the Gregorian calendar.
However, in China, the Chinese calendar controls the festivals!
Yes, it is confusing, indeed!
We Welcome The Spring With Fire
Chinese New Year facts would not be complete without talking about the fire of spring.
So, the reason why most people call this the “Spring Festival” is because it celebrates the season.
For instance, the month of Zhēngyuè is associated with the first showers of the season.
However, most of China is still pretty cold during that time.
“Beijing is usually in minus weather,” says Qixing. “This year, for example, the average low for the week will be -4,” she adds.
So, as you can imagine, it is freezing time.
Therefore, because we are leaving the cold days behind, one way we celebrate the coming warmth is with fire.
As a result, the firecracker was invented in China.
“I heard in ancient times people used bamboo, that is why firecracker is connected to the bamboo,” says Qixing.
Qixing is talking about that the Chinese people used heating bamboo in the past.
It is something still present in the names associated with the words.
For instance, the word for firecracker bàozhú is composed of two words, which are “burst” and “bamboo.”
Meanwhile, in some areas, it is common to place fire in front of the homes to jump over it.
“Some parts of China use fire instead of lanterns for the Lantern Festival,” says Qixing.
For example, in Qinghai, Tibet, and Gansu are all areas where a fire is used rather than lanterns.
However, in most parts of China, the fire is in the lantern hung in and outside of the homes.
No matter what, fire is part of it.
By the way, the Lantern Festival is towards the end of the New Year celebrations.
We Have More Than One Day To Celebrate
Because Gregorian New Year is one day, non-Chinese assume it is the same for us.
In fact, Chinese New Year is 15 days!
“Sometimes I think it is too much,” says Qixing, who says that her family eats dumplings for the entire holiday. “I can’t stand it afterward and don’t eat it for months,” she laughs.
So, Qixing notes she often feels jealous that most of her friends don’t.
In other words, not every family does that.
“I would say most would eat dumplings on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day,” she says. “But all two weeks? I don’t think so.”
Meanwhile, there are things to do on each day other than eating dumplings.
For example, there are days when we visit ancestors, and there are days when wives visit their parents, etc.
Therefore, expect a couple of weeks of celebrations.
We Must Celebrate With Family
Because the entire festival revolves around family, we all go home!
As a result, you will see the most significant migration in mankind during this period.
So, it can really affect everything.
For instance, big cities like Beijing can have many empty streets, as businesses are closed!
“Everyone at my office goes home,” says Qixing. “I go back home. My brother also returns from Japan.”
Therefore, it is the time of the year that we all go back to our ancestral home area—even back from abroad.
It means you will see a lot of family members.
For example, a family you didn’t see all year!
We Celebrate Our Birthday
So, the seventh day of the New Year is special to us all.
According to Chinese religion, Nuwa, the goddess that created humans, didn’t rest on the seventh day.
Instead, she created the humans!
As a result, the seventh day of the New Year is called “human day” or rénrì.
“So, no matter when you were born, this is your birthday,” says Qixing. “We are all growing one year older that day.”
As you probably have guessed, we eat a ton of food.
Well, unless you’re Buddhist, who will refrain from meat that day.
We Eat A Lot Of Food
Because of the entire family is back, Chinese New Year foods can be so plentiful!
So, some foods are consumed because of their names “sounding” like lucky things.
For example, there is a cake consumed during the New Year called “New Year Cake.”
Well, in Chinese, “new year cake” or nián gāo sounds like “high year.”
As a result, we eat this cake to have a long year!
Likewise, the word for “fish” or yú sounds like the word “surplus.”
So, fish is the most popular meat for New Year, as hope surplus of wealth at the end of the year!
“The best thing about the fish is not to eat the part that is to the plate,” says Qixing.
For example, in some parts of China, people will save that part for an entire year!
Of course, there are also the dumplings, which look like imperial money and are consumed for good luck.
Therefore, expect a lot of food if you’re going to a Chinese New Year event!
We Avoid A Lot Of Food
So, just as we consume specific foods, we avoid others too!
Because white is associated with death, as it is the color worn during grieving, many people avoid white foods.
“For example, in my family, we don’t eat anything like white noodles,” says Qixing. “We also don’t eat white rice, white steamed buns, or anything else that is white.”
Of course, that is cutting out a lot of food!
Likewise, a lot of people avoid traditionally poor people’s food, such as porridge.
We Drink Special Wine
So, drinking alcohol is essential during the New Year.
Like many things, it has to do with phonetics.
For instance, the word for alcohol or chún sounds similar to the “spring” part in the “Spring Festival.”
So, a lot of alcohol is consumed.
For example, there is a special rice wine called “New Year Wine” or niánjiǔ.
“My mother said I was given small amounts of wine even when I was infant,” says Qixing. “Everyone has to drink wine! I prefer the clear wine,” she adds.
The clear wine, called báijiǔ in Chinese, is made from sorghum.
“I love the aroma of the special one from Jiangxi,” Qixing says.
Therefore, expect a lot of toasting during Chinese New Year!
We Have Special Greetings
Of course, we have New Year greetings!
For example, there is gong xǐ fā cái, which means something like, “prosperous congratulations.”
“I personally say to people xīnnián hǎo,” says Qixing.
So, that is a greeting that can be translated like “Happy New Year” (literally it says, “Good New Year”).
Meanwhile, a popular and modern greeting is xīnnián kuàilè, which means “Happy New Year.”
“I don’t know why, but that greeting is very formal,” laughs Qixing, talking about xīnnián kuàilè. “I guess it is something you would say to your boss.”
However, I would say it is more typical in Chinese communities outside of China.
Anyway, there are plenty of greetings to choose from.
We Use The Color Red Like Crazy
Chinese New Year facts not understood by the non-Chinese include the use of red.
So, the color red has many positive meanings and is the color of celebration.
As a result, you will see it everywhere on the Chinese New Year.
“I even use red eye shadow makeup,” says Qixing. “You must have a red, right? It is tradition.”
Yes, we do!
For instance, we use red on body, clothes, homes, and even on the streets.
We Circulate A Lot Of Money
Because it is the season to be joyous, we spread money.
First of all, we give money to one another.
“I usually give and receive the same amount, or close to the same amount,” says Qixing.
So, older parents and grandparents will give money to younger people and kids.
As a result, families will share the money, because it will go in a circle anyway.
Generally speaking, money is given in red envelopes.
Meanwhile, another way money is spent is through shopping.
“My family starts shopping months in advance,” says Qixing.
Some people start shopping six months before.
We Only Do Lucky Things
Some of the most unknown Chinese New Year facts revolve around luck.
So, since it is the birth of a new year, we avoid doing unlucky things.
For example, we clean our homes before but never during the New Year.
“You would cleaning out your luck,” says Qixing. “For example, sweeping is seen as if literally sweeping away the good fortune. It is also the same for washing your hair.”
Likewise, we don’t use white or black colors, as they are colors associated with bad luck.
“For example, it is also inviting misfortune to break things,” says Qixing.
Similarly, we don’t utter bad or unlucky words, and we don’t go to the hospital or consume medicine.
“Going to the hospital or taking medication is inviting illness,” says Qixing.
Meanwhile, you should not lend or borrow money, either.
“Before the New Year is the best time to settle debts, too,” says Qixing.
Therefore, watch out!
New Year Story
It is a few weeks before the Spring Festival, and 23-year-old Lianhua is trying to go home early.
“I haven’t seen my sister for two years,” she tells her boss, Miss Zhang.
“Why do you think I don’t care?” replies Miss Zhang.
Young Lianhua is very sad.
Miss Zhang is a powerful 41-year-old mid-level manager at this Beijing office. Because she worked her way up from the bottom, she doesn’t have a soft heart for these girls.
“I too was once a new girl in the office,” she told Lianhua when she first hired her. “So, I understand you will have to prove yourself.”
Somehow, Lianhua remembered that conversation, as she returned to her desk.
“I feel sad that I won’t see you for another 2 weeks,” she sent a message to her sister, through Line.
Later, after work, Lianhua met her friend and co-worker Jin.
“Don’t worry, soon you will see your sister,” Jin said, consoling her friend.
Lianhua explained her sister was visiting from London. She didn’t know when she would see her again, as she was going into postgraduate education.
Although her sister was staying throughout the festival, giving them a couple of weeks together, Lianhua hoped for more time.
Now it was looking like it was not going to happen.
“Have a good holiday,” said Miss Zhang to Lianhua.
Now everyone was going home.
So, like everyone else at the office, Lianhua would have three weeks at home.
She boarded her train with so much anticipation.
“I will be home soon,” Lainhua said, looking out into the horizon.
It is just two days before New Year’s Eve.
She would transfer twice, but she would be home the next day.
So, in this article, we covered Chinese New Year facts that you may not be familiar with.
For example, we discussed how Chinese people don’t call the festival “Chinese New Year.”
Likewise, we talked about how not all Chinese people celebrate the festival.
Similarly, we covered that there are some foods we consume and other foods that we avoid.
We also talked about how it is the most family-focused festival of the year.
Meanwhile, a story was shared with you about the New Year.
Becaue Lianhua’s story is based on a friend, it was shared to give you a picture.
It is really not easy to get extra time off, as everyone has so much time off already!
But we all try.
Happy New Year!
Li Xiu Ying is a travel writer and is the author of Beijing Travel. She writes about China for Caravanzers.