Chinese New Year graphic
2022 is the Year of the Tiger on the Chinese zodiac.

The Year of the Tiger is fast approaching! If you haven’t heard, the Chinese New Year – a celebration of the beginning of the new year on the Chinese lunar calendar – begins this year on February 1st. 

Even if you’re not familiar with the specific festivities, you'd likely recognize the Chinese Zodiac, a rotating roster of twelve animals, each linked to specific traits or characteristics. This year’s celebration will mark the change from 2021, the Year of the Ox, to 2022, the Year of the Tiger.

Also known as the Spring Festival, Chinese New Year is traditionally celebrated from Chinese New Year’s Eve until the Lantern Festival two weeks later, but celebrations (and preparations) can begin days or weeks earlier, and many of the most common traditions date back thousands of years.

Here are some of the most celebrated Chinese New Year customs, and what they mean to the billions who will be celebrating the coming of the Year of the Tiger.

Cleaning and Decorating the House

There’s nothing like a little spring, err, winter cleaning! This tradition technically takes place before the Chinese New Year, but it’s still an important part of Chinese New Year festivities. Prior to the beginning of the Spring Festival, people give their houses a meticulous sweeping, dusting, and cleaning. This is to clear their homes of all the bad luck that has accumulated throughout the previous year and to make room for all the good luck of the coming year.

After the cleaning is done, it’s time to decorate! Colored in festive red and gold and symbolizing luck and good fortune in the new year, common decorations include paper lanterns, door couplets, and paper cuttings. Many families also put up a kumquat tree in their home. The more fruit on the tree, the more luck you’ll have in the new year!

Family Reunion Dinner

Just like Thanksgiving in America, Chinese New Year holds the same promise of sumptuous seasonal foods shared with loved ones. Commonly called the reunion dinner because generations of family travel from all over to, well, reunite, this single meal is widely regarded as the pre-eminent meal of the year. Fish, chicken, duck, sticky rice, and spring rolls are all common sights at the reunion dinner table, but the one dish you’re guaranteed to see is dumplings, and not just because their preparation gives everyone ample time to spend together! The shape of dumplings is similar to the shape of gold ingots used in ancient China as currency, and so the copious consumption of dumplings represents wealth and future fortune.

Fireworks

Across generations and across cultures, we all agree: There’s no better way to usher in the new year than with a bang. Chinese New Year is historically celebrated with fireworks because Nian, a lion-like monster of Chinese mythology, arose from the ocean at the beginning of each Spring Festival to devour people. Each year, fireworks were set off because people realized that the loud combustion of the fireworks, coupled with the shredded scarlet paper that fell back to the earth following the explosions, succeeded in keeping Nian away. 

Exchanging Gifts

The Spring Festival is frequently a time of great generosity; it is not uncommon for children to receive new clothes or for adult friends to exchange gifts of tea or fruit. But the most common gift is the red lai see. These packets usually contain gifts of money - sometimes just a little, sometimes quite a lot! When giving gifts, there are several unspoken etiquette rules to follow as well. Gifts of red and gold are welcome, black and white (ominous omens of death), not so much. Gifts are also typically given in even numbers, rather than odd. And, if giving money, you’ll want to avoid any amount that has the number 4 in it at all costs. Consider it similar to the number 13 in American culture - a very, very bad omen.

Dragon Dances

One of the most iconic events of the Chinese New Year is the dragon dance. Typically performed by a team of trained dancers, the dragon dance is conducted by moving a giant dragon puppet in a rolling fashion using poles distributed along the length of the dragon. Individual dancers alone cannot make the dragon dance; by synchronizing their movements as a team, however, each member can contribute to the appearance of a continuous whole. With a little practice, the dragon can be made to corkscrew and flip, a crowd pleasing move sure to wow any audience!

Visiting Temples and Worshiping Ancestors

The new year also offers ample time for reflection. With two weeks off, Chinese New Year sees the return of many Chinese to their native temples; these worshippers typically enter their hometown temples on the third day of the Spring Festival, where they light incense and revere their ancestors. Gifts of wine and food are also offered to ancestors before the reunion dinner, so that the deceased can eat first and join in the festivities. It is common to offer a deceased family member their favorite dish as signs of respect, loyalty, and piety.

Chinese New Year is one of the most popular and celebrated holidays in the world, and festivities extend far beyond Chinese borders. In many countries in Southeast Asia, it’s a public holiday, and some of the biggest cities in Europe, North America, and Australia all conduct official celebrations. This February would be the perfect time to visit Chinatown in your city, and see what Chinese New Year is really all about!

19 comments

  1. Catherine Ohrin-Greipp's Avatar Catherine Ohrin-Greipp

    How lovely to share this information with us. It makes us more aware of customs of other cultures. When I recently ordered take out order from a Chinese restaurant, I was given a beautiful red/gold embossed envelope with money in it. We Cherokee people also have a similar New Year celebration in winter where homes are swept, and scrubbed to make room for positive energies, followed by feasts with friends and relatives.

  1. William Dusenberry's Avatar William Dusenberry

    Everyone is free to determine, by their own calculations, how long ago the Earth first orbited the Sun; my calculations determined that this occurred 4,540,172,022 years ago.

    If others, using different calculations, come up with a different year — have at it, whatever floats one’s boat.

    1. Lionheart's Avatar Lionheart

      You’re close, my calculations got 4,540,172,022.5 at 2:35 UTC time. 🤷🏻‍♂️

      Carl, can you get it any closer? I didn’t take into account when the earth spawned our own moon, which might have thrown my calculation off a few hours. 😳

      🦁❤️

  1. William Dusenberry's Avatar William Dusenberry

    There’s only one actual New Year, which memorialized the actual number of times that our Earth has orbited our Sun (4,540, 172,022) on 12/21 — which conveniently is also the date of the winer solstice.

    All the other New Years, are man made, and therefore just pretend.

    We Secular Humanist Pantheists are proud of the fact, that we’re the only known group, that gets this right.

    1. John P Maher's Avatar John P Maher

      REALLY ? DUSENBERRY ! AND THE INCA, THE MAYAN, THE AFRICAN AND SO ON !

    2. Tom's Avatar Tom

      I mean as long as your year starts and ends on the same day a year later, you can celebrate a new year on whatever day you choose. The New Year celebration we recognize on Dec. 31/Jan. 1 is a man-made holiday as well, simply based upon the Gregorian calendar most of the world follows. Someone could celebrate the New Year around the Summer solstice if they chose and it wouldn't be any more or less valid than celebrating around the Winter solstice or Jan. 1 as most people do.

      If, as a SHP, you want to celebrate the New Year on the Winter solstice that is certainly your prerogative but claiming that you are the only known group to get this right is simply elitist and unnecessary.

    3. Reverend Kurt's Avatar Reverend Kurt

      Australian aboriginals had no bother with years, for them it was the seasons (6). They were well aware of the rotation of the earth and celestial occurrences . Until the European invasion, they had never heard of Humanist Pantheist. So forgive them their error from a culture that has thrived in their ignorance for 100 000+ years.

    4. Robert James Ruhnke's Avatar Robert James Ruhnke

      That’s a really weird flex, but okay. By technicality the calendar date 12/21 is made up too. Humans and their silly pride lol.

    5. John D. Partin's Avatar John D. Partin

      William Dusenberry, the Earth itself isn't conscious in order for it to care how many times that it has revolved around the Sun, and so these revolutions are only for human beings to care about and to calculate, not from the beginning of the revolutions, but from the beginning of their marking the passage of the years and dates in that passage that are significant to them, such as B.C. and A.D. The same as funerals are only for the living, not the dead (who are past caring in this world), the numbering of years is only for the human beings who care about it, not the Earth that doesn't care about it. If we should really start measuring the years from that first revolution of the Earth around the Sun because our numbers for the passage of years are all man made, then, following suit, the days of the week and the months of the year are also man made names and so "should be gotten rid of, too", just to be consistent, and replaced with, I don't know, day numbers of every day since the beginning of days and month numbers of every month since the beginning of months!! And how many other man made concepts, such as inches and feet and yards and miles, that nature didn't come up with, either, would, consistently, have to be dispensed with, too? Or we could just go with the number of our years, and names of our days and months as they are (which we will do, anyway, no matter what you "purists" think we should do), instead of caring about how many revolutions ago the Earth made its first revolution around the Sun or the number of times that the Moon has revolved around the Earth (for the numbers of months) or days since the beginning of the world!! How ridiculous and stupid!! And not have to yank all of our time measurements and calculations out by the roots in order to recalculate everything, keeping our time measurements the same for those who care about them and whom they help, and not changing them for the Earth that doesn't care about them and won't be helped by them!!

  1. Douglas Robert Spindler's Avatar Douglas Robert Spindler

    What about the March equinox as with sidereal time? This is NOT man made.

  1. Minister Carlos Ricardo Walls's Avatar Minister Carlos Ricardo Walls

    Every culture has their own mores.Respect their traditions.

  1. Daniel Gray's Avatar Daniel Gray

    Ahhh, Chinese New Year in Chinatown.... The sights, the sounds, the smells of cooking, the laughter of children and the smiles on peoples faces. If you have never been to one, you dont know what you are missing

  1. John Charles Calhoun's Avatar John Charles Calhoun

    Gonna be tough on the Chines who are locked in their apartments and homes due to the variant that is running rampant in the Country. Prayers and good thoughts to those who are being persecuted.

  1. Retta K Mallady's Avatar Retta K Mallady

    I say that all will be right with the world WHEN the Cincinnati Bengals (Tigers) win the Super Bowl due to so much Tiger energy making good plays on the field! The only response, if any, should be...'You got THAT right!' I'm not coming back to see if any 'bah humbugs' want to argue it. Just don't...

  1. Linda weeks's Avatar Linda weeks

    Please use the word “honor” instead of “worship” when referring to attending the ancestors. It causes confusion for people.

  1. Minister Peter Anthony Moore's Avatar Minister Peter Anthony Moore

    so cool

  1. Daniel Joseph Morse's Avatar Daniel Joseph Morse

    Only if I find their mores acceptable to me. The "Golden Rule" only works if you don't encounter a masochist. Should I ever venture far enough from the path to encounter ignorant, stubborn inDUHviduals, I shall tread hard on their traditions until I establish a secure perimeter.

    1. John D. Partin's Avatar John D. Partin

      Daniel, I have encountered a masochist and so thank you very much for your advice. Many people here (not you, and so don't take this personally!) aren't worth my wasting any more time responding to their posts because they are never satisfied with any answers that they get, but keep wanting you to tell them over and over again just to annoy people, since they don't actually want an answer and won't accept any evidence at all for God's existence, which would shake up their whole little world!! So, I won't respond to them anymore, but shall tread hard on their traditions with other people.

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