Lunar New Year 2022

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.

Lunisolar Calendar

The Chinese calendar is lunisolar. It is based on exact astronomical observations of the Sun’s longitude and the Moon’s phases. It attempts to have its years coincide with the tropical year and shares some similarities with the Jewish calendar.

In both these calendars, a common year has 12 months and a leap year has 13 months; and an ordinary year has 353–355 days while a leap year has 383–385 days.

In Modern Society

Although the Chinese calendar originated in China, these days, the Gregorian calendar is used for civil purposes. However, the Chinese calendar is still observed among various Chinese communities around the world. It is used to determine festival dates, such as Lunar New Year, as well as auspicious dates, such as wedding dates. It is also used to determine Moon phases because it follows the Moon.

Should We Call It “Chinese New Year” or “Lunar New Year”?

As there are so many terms and labels for common celebrations around the world, there are bound to be just as many disagreements and misconceptions regarding them.

Either way, whether you refer to it as the Chinese New Year, Lunar New Year, Spring Festival, or any other name, in the end it is the context that matters, and as long as no intentional offense is meant, it is safe to say that almost everyone will just be happy to share and celebrate the festive occasion all around the world, whatever it’s called!

Chinese New Year and Lunar New Year Controversies

In recent years, the topic of correct terminology of the Chinese New Year celebration, has unfortunately been creating controversy.

  • Some claim that referring to the celebration as ‘Chinese New Year’ may be insensitive, as there are several other cultures celebrating the same festival by a different name on this date, and so it is not strictly ‘Chinese’.
  • On the other hand, referring to it as ‘Lunar New Year’ inadvertently ignores other cultures’ lunar new year celebrations, which may fall on different dates, and therefore be separate celebrations.

As it is impossible to satisfy everyone, there is no technically correct term, but ‘Chinese Spring Festival‘ seems to be the safest bet.

How Chinese New Year Differs from Other Lunar New Years

Chinese Zodiac 12-year Cycle

The Chinese New Year, as opposed to other Lunar New Year celebrations, incorporates a lot of Chinese cultural and religious elements. There are plenty of unique components to Chinese New Year (and Chinese lunar calendar in general) which differentiates it from other new year celebrations.

In the Chinese system, aside from the well-known 12-year cycle of the Chinese animal-zodiac, there are other lesser-known cycles that happen simultaneously.

The 10-year cycle of the ‘Heavenly Stems’, which are associated with the five elements of Chinese astrological mythology, and rotate every two years. As this happens, there is also a yearly alternation of Yin and Yang forces. The combination of these cycles resets every 60 years. This Year’s Chinese New Year celebration will be a ‘Yang Metal Rat year’.

As China has 56 ethnic groups, different ethnicities (nationalities) may have slightly different variations of traditions and names for the festival.

Tibetan New Year, for example, is celebrated according to an almost identical lunisolar calendar as the Chinese, and falls either on the same day, a day before or a day after, or a month after the Chinese one, and is called ‘Losar’.

As another example, Vietnamese New Year is celebrated at the same time as Chinese New Year (and also has many of the same traditions), and is called ‘Tết’. 

  •  Today, Chinese New Year is almost always celebrated on the second new moon following the winter solstice, therefore typically falling between late-January to mid-February.
  • Other cultures’ Lunar New Year celebrations usually take place on the first new moon after the winter solstice instead. 

Counting the Years and the 60-Year Cycle

The Chinese calendar does not count years in an infinite sequence. Each year is assigned a name consisting of two components within each 60-year cycle. The first component is a celestial stem:

  • Jia (associated with growing wood).
  • Yi (associated with cut timber).
  • Bing (associated with natural fire).
  • Ding (associated with artificial fire).
  • Wu (associated with earth).
  • Ji (associated with earthenware).
  • Geng (associated with metal).
  • Xin (associated with wrought metal).
  • Ren (associated with running water).
  • Gui (associated with standing water).

The Chinese Zodiac

What’s my Chinese Zodiac animal?

The second component is a terrestrial branch. It features the names of animals in a zodiac cycle consisting of 12 animals:

The Chinese Zodiac

2021 is the Year of the Ox in the Chinese zodiac. What will 2022 be?

  • Zi (Rat)
  • Chou (Ox)
  • Yin (Tiger)
  • Mao (Rabbit)
  • Chen (Dragon)
  • Si (Snake)
  • Wu (Horse)
  • Wei (Sheep)
  • Shen (Monkey)
  • You (Rooster)
  • Xu (Dog)
  • Hai (Boar/pig)

Each of the two components is used sequentially. Therefore, the first year of the 60-year cycle becomes jia-zi, the second year is yi-chou, and so on. One starts from the beginning when the end of a component is reached. The 10th year is gui-you, the 11th year is jia-xu (restarting the celestial stem) the 12th year is yi-hai, and the 13th year is bing-zi (restarting the celestial branch). Finally, the 60th year is gui-hai.

This pattern of naming years within a 60-year cycle dates back about 2000 years. A similar naming of days and months is no longer used but the date name is still listed in calendars. It has been customary to number the 60-year cycle since 2637 BCE when the calendar was supposedly invented.

Calculating Chinese New Year

According to Helmer Aslaksen, of the National University of Singapore, there are two rules of thumb used to calculate the new year in the Chinese calendar. The first rule of thumb is that Chinese New Year should be the New Moon closest to the beginning of spring (in the Northern Hemisphere), known as Lìchūn. This rule is correct most of the time, but it can fail if Lìchūn falls close to halfway between two New Moons. For example, it failed in both 1985 and 2015. Chinese New Year will always fall between January 21 and February 21.

The second rule of thumb is that most of the time Chinese New Year will fall 11 (or sometimes 10 or 12) days earlier than the previous year, but if that means that the event would be outside of the Chinese New Year range of January 21 to February 21, a leap month must be added so Chinese New Year jumps 19 (or sometimes 18) days later.

So, this year, will you celebrate with the Chinese, or will you celebrate the Lunar New Year?