The origins and celebrations of Chinese New Year

The origins and celebrations of Chinese New Year

Friday 12th February will mark the passing of Chinese New Year – also known as Lunar New Year. In 2021, the people of China, as well as different cultures all around the world, will be welcoming in the year of the ox.

New Year is the most important time of the lunar calendar, not only for China, but for other areas such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Hong Kong. The celebration, ‘The Spring Festival’, lasts over two weeks and is made up of parties, family gatherings and temple offerings. Here, Kuoni’s own Yiwen Wang tells us about the origins of New Year and why it’s so important to her culture.

“Everyone is born in a year with a zodiac sign relating to 12 different animals. Every 12 year lunar circle in China, you have your zodiac year, which is seen as a special year for you."

So if you were born in 1961, 1973, 1985 or young enough to have been born in 1997, you were born in the year of the rat, and are thought to have personality traits such as being reliable, fair and strong.

Year of the Ox 2021

The origins of New Year Celebrations

The traditions of dragons, lanterns and firecrackers seems to have emerged from an ancient Chinese fable. The tale tells of a dreaded ocean dwelling beast known as the Nian, a vicious creature with the head of a lion and the body of a bull. Each spring, the Nian would come ashore and wreak havoc on a small Chinese village, destroying homes, and eating livestock. One year, a mysterious old wise man came to the village and told the village he knew of the beast’s weaknesses. He said that the Nian was incredibly afraid of loud noises, as well as the colour red. Taking the advice, houses and buildings were painted red and huge fires of crackling bamboo were made. Sure enough, Nian never returned to the village, and the villagers lived on in peace.

New Year's dragon representing Nian

If you’re wondering why so many images you see of Chinese New Year include red lanterns and the loud bang of firecrackers, look no further than this story. “In ancient times, the harsh winter would bring wild creatures to towns and villages. People found that, when burning bamboo in fire, it exploded and made loud bangs and crackling noises – enough to dispel fierce animals and evil demons.”

The colour red is also still a huge party of New Year celebrations. Buildings throughout the country, as well as Chinese quarters of cities all around the world, are painted red and decorated with red paper lanterns. Some people take a little further however...

Wearing red underwear in your zodiac year is a way to avoid bad things and have luck for the whole year. Every Chinese person has red underwear in their wardrobe!”

Traditional New Year Lanterns

How is Chinese New Year celebrated?

Before the festivites truly begin, the evening of New Year’s Eve is considered a time for contemplation and for spending with family. Feasts at home with loved ones are commonplace and it is tradional to visit temple after the meal.

“Midnight of New Year’s Eve is the busiest time in Chinese temples. People believe burning the year’s first incense and ringing the first bells will bring the best guardians from the Buddha. No matter how cold the weather is or how crowded the temple square is, people queue up to show their sincerity. However, the sound of a temple’s bell is soon overwhelmed by festive firecrackers that mark the passing of midnight.”

Temple decorated for New Year

After 12am, the celebrations properly begin and the skies are filled with fireworks to ward off evil spirits. Many people stay up all night burning fires, a tradition to make sure the vicious Nian doesn’t return.

For the following two weeks, firecrackers continue to explode, prayers are said, family meals are eaten, and gifts are exchanged. The festivities continue until the final day, The Lantern festival where streets are bathed in candles and light.

“The following New Year celebrations last 15 days until the next full moon. That is the end of the festivities and life goes back to normal. After a year of hard work, Spring festival is a time to appreciate last year’s achievements or lessons and to make a wish for the coming year."

So to everybody who celebrates Lunar New Year, good luck for the Year of The Ox.


Ancient traditions, captivating landscapes, unique cuisine and fascinating cultures - will the year of the ox be your year to visit the land of the red dragon?

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