Chinese New Year is a major holiday in China and seen as the most important celebration of the year. It is also marked by Chinese communities across the world, with major celebrations taking place in Chinatown areas of cities throughout the UK.
It has become a major cultural event which is attended by people of all backgrounds keen to enjoy the colourful displays and impressive parades that are often used to mark the occasion.
It is also known as the Spring Festival and is based on the lunisolar Chinese calendar, which differs from the Western or Gregorian calendar most commonly used in the UK and elsewhere. Festivities begin on the first day of the first Chinese month, which marks the first solar term, with celebrations continuing for 15 days. The date changes each year but the first day of Chinese New Year always falls between January 21 and February 21, depending on when the second new moon occurs after the winter solstice.
Some traditions date back through the centuries and a variety of local customs also exist throughout different areas of China, many of which are continued by Chinese populations in other countries. Popular customs include a large family meal on New Year’s Eve, red envelopes filled with money or sweets being left for children on New Year’s Day and many households carry out a thorough clean of the home to clear away bad luck before the new year begins.
It is a public holiday in China and other parts of Southeast Asia with significant Chinese populations and while it is not a bank holiday in the UK, major celebrations still take place in various towns and cities. In the UK, dragon parades are a popular form of celebration with dragon dancing and lantern displays taking place around Chinese areas of major cities.
Chinese New Year celebrations date back through the centuries and there are many stories, myths and legends about its origins. Many of the tales revolve around a mythical monster called Nian who attacked villagers, with the frightened families trying to ward it off with firecrackers, drums and other loud noises, as well as displaying red paper and lanterns to scare it away.
Celebrations continue every year on the anniversary of the date the villagers conquered the Nian, which is also the Chinese word for ‘year.’ Many of these customs continue today with firecrackers and bright red displays being popular motifs of New Year celebrations.
The date of the celebrations is dictated by the lunar cycle, with Chinese New Year usually taking place on the second new moon after winter. It is also a time of year to mark the preparations for the new growing season in agricultural areas.