Behind Episode 201: Lunar New Year

The Chinese calendar is a lunisolar calendar that is used to determine important festival dates, such as Lunar New Year.

This festival is believed go as far back as prehistory. It marks the start of the new lunar cycle and is called the Spring Festival (in the northern hemisphere) as it falls between the December solstice and the March equinox. China follows the Gregorian calendar for daily business but the dates of the Chinese New Year and other important festivals are determined by the Chinese calendar.

Each year in the Chinese calendar is assigned to an animal. According to one belief, Buddha promised gifts to all animals that would pay him homage. Only 12 animals came to honor Buddha so, to favor these 12 animals, each one was given one of the 12 years of the Chinese zodiac. People are said to inherit distinctive characteristics from the animal of their birth year. The signs repeat every 12 years.

The Chinese calendar is based on astronomical observations of the Sun’s longitude and the Moon’s phases. It is believed to have been introduced by Emperor Huangdi (or Huang Ti) at some stage around 2600 to 3000 BCE. According to legend, the emperor invented the calendar in 2637 BCE. This calendar predates the Gregorian calendar, which was introduced in 1582. The Chinese lunar calendar is used to determine festivals. Since the length of the Chinese calendar year differs from the length of a year in the Gregorian calendar, the Gregorian dates of these festivals vary each year. Various Chinese communities around the world also use this calendar.

Symbols

Chinese New Year has various symbols and traditions. For example, flowers are an important part of New Year decorations, among them the plum blossom (associated with courage and hope) and the water narcissus (associated with good luck and fortune). Writings that refer to good luck are often seen in homes and business environments. They are usually written with a brush on a diamond-shaped piece of red paper. Tangerines and oranges are also displayed in many homes and stores as a sign of luck and wealth.

Envelopes with money (Hong BaoAng Pao, or Lai See) often come in the color red, which symbolizes happiness, good luck, success, and good fortune. The color red is also used on these envelopes to ward off evil spirits. These envelopes are mainly given as presents to children.

The Chinese calendar is a lunisolar calendar that is used to determine important festival dates, such as Lunar New Year.

2022 The Year of the Tiger

Learn more about traditions, and Chinese New Year vs. Lunar New Year, controversies of the holiday, and more