Chinese New Year 2015: year of the goat... or sheep

Feb 19, 2015

Peaceful and homely? You must be a goat. Here’s how to celebrate Chinese New Year 2015

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To many westerners Chinese New Year a colourful celebration marked by firecrackers and dancing Chinese 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?

Chinese New Year is held each year between 21 January and 20 February, with the main celebration falling this year on 19 February. The Chinese calendar's origins can be traced back as far as the 14th century BC. This year's celebrations will mark the beginning of the year 4713 on the Chinese calendar.

The exact date of Chinese New Year is determined by the lunisolar cycle. That means the calendar is based on exact astronomical observations of the sun's longitude and moon phases, explains the Time and Date website.

What is Chinese New Year?

New Year 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 beast Nian, a monster which would appear at the end of every year and attack people. Villagers worked out that loud noise, bright lights and the colour red kept Nian at bay, and so the seeds of Chinese New Year celebrations were sown.

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 celebrations 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. The festival begins on 17 January and the main event will be a huge parade through Chinatown and the West End on Sunday 22 February. There are similar celebrations in Chinatowns in cities around the world.

Which animal represents 2015?

This is not a straightforward question. In Mandarin, it is the year of the "yang", or horned animal. The same word can mean goat, sheep or ram, so any of the three is correct. According to The Independent, people born in the year of the goat are said to "prefer peace, [to be] most comfortable at home, and is artistic but resistant to change." Their lucky numbers are 3, 4 and 9, and they are advised to pair off with rabbits, horses or pigs.

How were the animals chosen

The Chinese year is linked directly to the Chinese Zodiac – a list of 12 animals representing different years and 2015 will be the year of the goat. It is believed that someone born in a particular year will share similar attributes to the animal with which that year is associated.

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

Rat - February 19, 1996 | February 7, 2008
Ox - February 7, 1997 | January 26, 2009
Tiger - January 28, 1998 | February 14, 2010
Rabbit - February 16, 1999 | February 3, 2011
Dragon - February 5, 2000 | January 23, 2012
Snake - January 24, 2001 | February 10, 2013
Horse - February 12, 2002 | January 31, 2014
Goat/Sheep - February 1, 2003 | February 19, 2015
Monkey - January 22, 2004 | February 8, 2016
Rooster - February 9, 2005 | January 28, 2017
Dog - January 29, 2006 | February 16, 2018
Pig - February 18, 2007 | February 5, 2019

How is Chinese New Year celebrated?

In China, new year customs vary region by region, although there are a number of traditions that are consistent throughout the country. 

Cleaning: Out with the old and in with the new. In the run-up to new year, houses are cleaned top to bottom. Some Chinese people take a bath with pomelo leaves (a citrus fruit native to South East Asia) as it's believed to enhance prosperity for the coming year. It is also traditional not to wash your hair during the initial days of new year as it risks washing out any newly acquired prosperity.

Decoration: Doorways, windows and various other parts of houses are decorated with red ribbons and banners to ward off evil. It is also customary to put on brand new red clothes – red being a colour associated with good luck - in the early hours of New Year's Day as it is thought to ward off evil and symbolises a new start.

New Year's Eve meal: Chinese New Year is a time for families to reunite and the New Year's Eve meal is the most important of the year. Dumplings and fish are served as symbols of prosperity and children receive gifts, including envelopes filled with money.

Fireworks: It wouldn't be Chinese New Year without fireworks and fire-crackers. Traditionally they are set off on New Year's Eve in order to bid farewell to the old year and usher in the new.

But could their days be numbered?

Beijing's air quality, which is poor at the best of times, deteriorates substantially during Chinese New Year celebrations, when smoke from lanterns and fireworks mingles with background levels of car fumes, industrial pollution and dust from building sites.

"China has been trying to get a handle on the pollution caused by holiday fireworks for some time, with 138 cities banning them nationwide," Quartz reports. "But the chronically polluted capital hasn’t passed an outright ban, instead choosing to reduce the number of fireworks shops, and the time during which they operate."

Nevertheless, the air quality index showed a dramatic rise in pollution as celebrations got underway last night. Having hovered at about 50 micrograms per cubic metre for most of the day, it started to pick up at 8pm and peaked at about 430 at 1am, according to the US Embassy.

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In Depth

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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'.

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...