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20 Things You Never Knew About the Chinese New Year

Vibrant, festive, and full of hope, Chinese New Year brings families together to do away with any negative energy from previous months, ushering in a time of positivity, good fortune, and an abundance of riches. Read on to learn more about the deep traditions and modern practices associated with this special holiday.

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Chinese lanterns during new year festivalwong yu liang/Shutterstock

Chinese New Year

In 2020, the Chinese New Year falls on January 25. This year is the year of the Rat. Read on to learn more about this important holiday. Also, educate yourself on the history of Chinese New Year.

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Chinese lion dance for Chinese new year with red fan in the backgroundHunterKitty/Shutterstock

Season’s greetings

The most common Chinese New Year greeting is “Guo Nian Hao” which means “Happy New Year.” “The most amusing fact about this greeting is that in a Chinese New Year story, a Nian is a fierce and cruel monster that eats livestock and children, but is scared of the color red and the sound of firecrackers,” explains Ming Wang, MD, a Nashville-based eye surgeon who teams with Steinway Piano Nashville annually to offer a free concert during the holiday with all donations going toward his non-profit to help the blind.

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Photo of an airplane just before landing. Runway lights can be seen in the foreground.Herbert Kratky/Shutterstock

On the move

“The Chinese New Year is the longest public holiday in China. Employees have 7 to 12 days off work, and students have one month of winter vacation,” he says. “No matter where they live, Chinese try to return home to be with their families for Chinese New Year, just as Americans do for Christmas. This creates the world’s largest annual migration, known as the Spring Festival Travel Rush. The total annual trips by plane, train, bus, and ship can reach nearly three billion.” China Train Booking echoes Wang’s statement and offers travel tips for revelers.

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Sky lanterns with fireworks, flying lanterns, hot-air balloonsTanachot Srijam/Shutterstock

Let’s get loud

The Lunar New Year celebration is the only time in the year that fireworks can be set off, according to Dr. Wang. “No other celebration in any other country lights as many tons of fireworks as in China around midnight at the beginning of Chinese New Year,” he says. “China also produces about 90 percent of the world’s fireworks!”

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Peking Duck in bamboo steamer with fresh cilantro on black burned wooden backgroundLisovskaya Natalia/Shutterstock

To be happy and healthy

No holiday would be complete without a special meal and Chinese New Year is no different. “Duck is one of the popular dishes at dinner as it is considered a special and traditional dish to kick off the new year that means we will have a happy, healthy, and prosperous year,” says Han Lijun, owner and executive chef of San Francisco’s famous Sichuan restaurant, Z&Y Restaurant, located in the city’s Chinatown district. “The skin of the Peking duck is red and crispy. Red is a symbol of luck.” Learn more about why red is such an important color during Chinese New Year.

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CarbsVICUSCHKA/Shutterstock

A long life

Who doesn’t love a comforting dish of noodles? The dish has more meaning during Chinese New Year than you might think. “People will often eat noodles on the second day of the Lunar New Year as noodles mean longevity,” says Lijun. “They are a symbol and acknowledgment of your hopes and fears, wrapped up in the long strand of a noodle. Every year we eat our Lanzhou Beef Noodles made with our house-made beef broth cooked for eight hours.” Find out 13 lucky foods to eat on New Year’s Eve.

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White Pomfret Steamed Dish with chinese sauce,Ready to eat. On The Tableiinspiration/Shutterstock

Go fish

Everything on the table of a Lunar New Year meal has meaning, making a dinner that much more special. “Eating fish to celebrate the Lunar New Year symbolizes wealth,” says Lijun. “Fish in Chinese has the same pronunciation as ‘leftover’ but it doesn’t mean leftover food, it means leftover money. Don’t spend all of your money and be sure to save for your future. We recommend eating Steamed Whole Fish with Sichuan Small Green Pepper like we serve at Z&Y Restaurant.”

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Bamboo steamer with tasty baozi dumplings on tableAfrica Studio/Shutterstock

The meaning behind dumplings

Often families will come together for an evening of dumpling making to celebrate the holiday. “Dumplings have a variety of symbolic meanings,” says Lijun. “They symbolize happiness, prosperity, and people believe that dumplings will bring good luck for the coming year.” A favorite dish at his restaurant is the Spice Pork & Shrimp Dumplings. Check out more about the history of Chinese New Year.

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washing dishes. male hands in foam washes the frying pan with a detergent and sponge in the kitchen of the house.Dmitry Galaganov/Shutterstock

Don’t clean up

Put down that broom! While Americans might go on a cleaning frenzy prior to having relatives over for the holidays, it’s bad luck to clean while celebrating Chinese New Year. “Do not cut your hair or clean your room or house during Chinese New Year,” says Melissa Lee, a first generation bilingual Chinese-American living in Los Angeles. “It symbolizes washing away any good spirits/fortune that may come your way during the new year.”

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Young Asian couple cooking together while woman is feeding food to man at the kitchen. Happy couple and relationship conceptTwinsterphoto/Shutterstock

Family matters

The Chinese Lunar New Year is also known as the Spring Festival. “It celebrates ‘Yuan,’ the harmony of family,” says Bette Steflik, a certified Feng Shui consultant and author of Recipes for Living. “The traditions, customs, celebrations, and food customs inspire the five blessings: long life, wealth, peace, virtue and honor.”

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Empty bamboo cutting board and knife on a old wooden table for product display.Top viewVictor Lauer/Shutterstock

Cut it out

“On the last day of the old year food is prepared for the next two days so that all sharp instruments, such as knives and scissors, are placed in the drawer to avoid cutting the ‘luck’ of the New Year,” says Steflik. “The kitchen is not to be disturbed on the first day of the year. Getting poked by pins, or getting cut can be a harbinger of surgery to come.” This is also why it’s considered unlucky to get your hair cut (even trimmed!) during the holiday. Check out these amazing true stories about luck.

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A man is wearing black shoes in close-up.BATMANV/Shutterstock

Put on your finest

“The first New Year Day, everyone dines on a vegetarian meal to honor one’s ancestors,” explains Steflik. “Then the family dresses in their finest clothes and visits older family members, paying respect, taking along gifts of Mandarin oranges and sweets of all kinds generally offered in a ‘tray of togetherness.'”

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Single white and orange narcissus poeticus, ornamental flower in spring gardenIva Vagnerova/Shutterstock

Flower power

It isn’t all about the food and the color red that brings meaning to the holiday. Steflik points to a couple of flowers that have importance in the festival as well. “Daffodils and Narcissus bulbs blooming during the New Year bring good fortune and luck to a home,” she says. Read about these proven ways to change your luck.

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Chinese New Year light burstsutham/Shutterstock

Going Hollywood

Considering a sixth of the global population celebrates Chinese New Year, it should come as no surprise that the festivities are celebrated on a global scale. Universal Studios Hollywood puts their own spin on the celebration, decorating the park with red Chinese lanterns and plum blossom Wishing Trees and cloaking many of their beloved attractions and characters in festive red and gold. There’s even a Mandarin-speaking Megatron Transformer to greet guests.

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the Moon detailed shot taken at 1600mm focal length. Wanin gibbous phasePeter Gudella/Shutterstock

Save the date

Chinese New Year is an annual event, but the date varies from year to year. This is because unlike the Western calendar, the Chinese Lunar calendar shifts—it was reset each time a new emperor took control. Because it is scheduled according to both lunar phases and the solar solstices, the kick-off to Chinese New Year is rarely ever the same. These are the luckiest places in the world to visit.

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Chinese new year 2020 year of the rat , red and gold paper cut rat character, flower and asian elements with gold paper art craft style (Chinese translation : Happy chinese new year 2020, year of rat)Siam Vector/Shutterstock

Year of the Rat

The Rat represents the beginning of a new day. In Chinese culture, rats are seen as a symbol of wealth and surplus. For those born in the year of the Rat, 2020 will bring success to your career, but your health and relationships may face hardship.

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man sticking a Chinese New Year of the Dog 2018 to a door the Chinese means fortune and earn lots of moneyFreer/Shutterstock

The lunar cycle

You’ll notice that an animal is assigned to each new year. Dr. Wang explains that each lunar cycle is 60 years and every 12 years is regarded as a small cycle. “Each of the 12 years is defined by an animal sign: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig,” he says. “Each Chinese New Year begins a different animal’s zodiac year, i.e., 2020 is the Year of the Rat.” Here’s what’s in store for your Chinese Zodiac sign in 2020.

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Red envelopes and coins for Chinese New Yearoksana.perkins/Shutterstock

The red envelope

Children’s eyes light up at the sight of small red envelopes during Chinese New Year. “Instead of wrapped gifts like Americans give at Christmas, Chinese of all ages exchange red envelopes stuffed with ‘lucky money,’ from older to younger, from bosses to employees, and from leaders to underlings,” says Dr. Wang. “The children get to spend their lucky money however they want.” These are strange things believed to be bad luck around the world.

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Close up of Chinese calendar. Concept of time,planner and deadline.photastic/Shutterstock

The festive 15

As previously mentioned, the start date of Chinese New Year changes each year, however, it’s typically guided by the arrival of the new moon that occurs sometime between the end of January and the end of February. The celebration continues until the Festival of Lanterns, which is when the full moon is in place. Generally, this can take about 15 days. You’ll want to read these habits of lucky people.

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Train platform in Xining, ChinaDinozzzaver/Shutterstock

Ticket to ride

With so many people traveling home for the holiday, train tickets are a premium with everyone rushing to secure a ride at the same time. These tickets can only be sold 60 days in advance, causing a bonafide ticketing frenzy. According to ChineseNewYear.net, 1,000 tickets were sold every second in 2015. That’s a lot of revelers!

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Chinese New Year background. Chinese good luck symbol isolated on red silk fabric with text and sign.Kanchana P/Shutterstock

Bad luck

This might surprise you but your zodiac year is actually considered to be your unluckiest. For example, if you were born during the Year of the Snake, you might want to watch your step each time the Snake comes back around every 12 years. The color red is considered your best defense against bad luck, so believers might wear the bold shade every day to ward it off. Check out these Chinese New Year traditions we can all celebrate.