Chinese New Year 2016: how to celebrate

Feb 3, 2016

Everything you need to know to welcome in the year of the monkey in style

AFP/Getty Images

A blast of freezing weather and snow across eastern and central China has millions of travellers facing chaos as they try to get home for New Year festivities. More than 100,000 people crammed inside the busy Guangzhou station, in southern China, after 23 trains were delayed due to poor weather, reports The Guardian. Delays and cancellations have also hit other train stations and airports.

To many Westerners, Chinese New Year is a colourful celebration marked by firecrackers and dancing dragons. But scratch the surface of what is one of China's oldest festivals and you will find much more than food and festivities.

When is it?

Festivities begin on the first day of the complex Chinese lunisolar calendar, which stretches back to the 14th century BC. This date always falls between 21 January and 20 February, with the main celebration this year taking place on 8 February. Traditionally, the festival lasts for 15 days but today, celebrations are usually concentrated into the first three days.

What is Chinese New Year?

New Year, also known as Spring Festival, is one of China's oldest festivals. It marks the beginning of a new year and a new agricultural season and is considered a time for loved ones to reunite and take part in traditions designed to bring good fortune for the next 12 months.

The noise and colour come from one of the legends associated with the celebrations - that of the monster Nian, which would appear at the end of every year and attack people. Villagers discovered that loud noise, bright lights and the colour red kept the beast at bay and so the seeds of Chinese New Year celebrations were sown.

In Chinese towns and Chinatowns alike, the streets are decorated with bright red lanterns, while children receive red envelopes containing money. Workers may also be given a special red pay packet containing a bonus.

Where is it celebrated?  

The largest celebrations take place in China, naturally, although countries with a large Chinese population also mark the day. The biggest festivals outside of mainland China are in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

The largest celebration outside Asia takes place in London's Chinatown, where this year, the main event will be a huge parade on 14 February, with musicians and performers accompanying the traditional dancing dragons and lions through the capital. Street stalls and demonstrations will showcase the best of Chinese food, art and culture, while a stage in Trafalgar Square will welcome an array of dancers, singers and acrobats.

Which animal represents 2016?

The year is linked directly to the Chinese zodiac – a list of 12 animals - and 2016 will be the year of the monkey.

It is believed that someone born in a particular year will share similar attributes to its animal, so those born in the year of the monkey are said to be mischievous, inquisitive and cunning. Each year is also associated with one of five elements – metal, water, fire, earth and wood – which modify the traits of those born under them. For instance, the "metal monkey" is firm and resolute to the point of stubbornness, while a "water monkey" is softer and more sensitive. Babies born after new year 2016 will be "fire monkeys" - daring, dynamic and competitive, sometimes to extremes.

Here's a full list of the animals and the start of the most recent years with which they're associated.

Rat – 19 February, 1996 and 7 February, 2008

Ox – 7 February, 1997 and 26 January, 2009

Tiger – 28 January, 1998 and 14 February, 2010

Rabbit – 16 February, 1999 and 3 February, 2011

Dragon – 5 February, 2000 and 23 January, 2012

Snake – 24 January, 2001 and 10 February, 2013

Horse – 12 February, 2002 and 31 January, 2014

Goat/Sheep – 1 February, 2003 and 19 February, 2015

Monkey – 22 January, 2004 and 8 February, 2016

Rooster - 9 February, 2005 and 28 January, 2017

Dog – 29 January, 2006 and 16 February, 2018

Pig – 18 February, 2007 and 5 February, 2019

Sign up for our daily newsletter

In Depth

Disqus - noscript

Not only Chinese people who will celebrate, but also people/countries influenced by Chinese culture or used to use Chinese calendar such as Korea and Vietnam.

Mandarin Chinese rather than the Cantonese dialect would be a better representation. It is widely used in Mainland China, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, etc.

Thus - Gung Hai Fat Choi! (gong-hey-faat-choy) should be corrected t0 - Gong Xi Fa Cai (gong-xi-faa-caai)

A few wrong bits and pieces in this article (but it's a good article!) Red envelopes are given on New Years morning to unmarried children and adolescents, and not on CNY eve.

Was this article rushed, by any chance?
Besides the numerous factual mistakes already flagged,
it's 'they're associated' not 'their associated'.
*sigh*

My Filipino assistant tells me they don't celebrate Chinese new year in the Philippines, I didn't think they did. Maybe in Manila's chinatown, but that's not such a large China town. I suspect, like UK, the celebrations are nothing compared to China itself. Here in UK (my wife is Chinese), people won't take the day of work, they'll wait until the weekend before celebrating, and the whole celebrations continue for 15 days.

I was in China last year for new year. Nanning, almost everywhere closed as city dwellers return to the country side to be with family. The largest movement of people in the world occurs at new year - I had to get from Canton to Nanning, 400 miles, I was unable to get a flight, there was a 2-3 day queue for a train, but luckily I got a bus at 5am which took 12 hours!

Red envelopes aren't just for children. They're given to everyone, and despite the fact I'm a middle-age foreigner, even relatives that had never met me before were giving me red envelopes, even if only 1 or 2 yuan, it's a symbol and very important. We gave not only to children but every relative, it's expected. The amount of money isn't so important.

Fireworks were going off from 6am to midnight every single day I was in China, almost 2 weeks, days before and after new year. New years eve was the biggest fireworks show in the world! I mean, I've seen Disney's displays, they were nothing by comparison! The smell, the noise, incredible. In villages during the day I was thinking to myself that all the fire crackers going off must be what being in a war zone sounds like!

it is supposed to be CNY eve. know your culture and root well before commenting

Common guys don't be too fussy/!!
Thanks for the great article on Chinese New Year. Some people likes to be negative about everything.

i like the chinese year becuase the are the animles and i am a monkey

i eat heap

erm...the majority only give out hong bao from New Year's Day onwards

It's LUNAR New Year because they follow the Lunar Calendar ... not Chinese New Year!

Great, it's so complete to elucidate! and thanks for Don explaining what's meaning of the title, which help me to know it's congratulation to make a fortune. for me as a chinese just speaking mandarin

The person who wrote this article needs to get his/her head checked. When you're mentioning famous people who were born in the year of the horse, you're saying "Flemish master painter Rembrandt" - He wasn't Flemish, he was bloody dutch you moron!
-Susanne, a dutchie, who is quite insulted now.
ps Get your facts right The Week people! More comments from other people here as well...