The Year of the Fire Monkey: Chinese celebrate important holiday

by Emily Seth, Reporter

Most of the United States have already celebrated the New Year, perhaps spending New Year’s Eve staying up until the ball dropped, blowing noisemakers, and enjoying family and friends. However, according to a video by, one sixth of the world’s population also celebrates Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival or the Lunar New Year.

This year, the holiday falls on February 8th, although the date fluctuates each year based on when the second new moon after January 1st falls.

Chinese New Year has been a Chinese tradition for millennia. Surprisingly, today’s cheerful festivities originated from a completely different emotion: fear. Chinese folklore tells of a lion-like monster called Nian, the Chinese word for ‘year,’ attacking townsfolk and eating them.

An old man convinces the villagers to make noise with drums and firecrackers, as well as hang red banners from their doors, to scare the monster off. The villagers end up conquering Nian with the old man’s techniques, celebrating the anniversary of “the passing of Nian,” or guo nian in Chinese. This phrase is synonymous with the passing of the old year and the greeting of the new.

Traditionally, the Chinese New year celebration lasts 15 days. Today, Chinese people only take a week off of work; although, some families still choose to celebrate for the traditional length of time.

Oftentimes, right before the new year, participants of the celebration clean their homes very thoroughly. The word “dust” in Chinese is a homonym for “old,” so sweeping means cleaning the house of past bad experiences and spirits. This is said to leave the homeowners with a fresh slate for the new year. It is also considered good luck to buy plenty of new things for the new year, from clothing to furniture.

As the new year creeps up, celebrators hang Chinese couplets on their doors, written on red paper.

On New Year’s Eve, families of many generations gather and enjoy a large meal together.  This important dinner consists of jiaozi (dumplings) in the North and niangao (sticky rice cakes) in the South, each for different reasons considered lucky. Red envelopes filled with money, also called “lucky money,” are given to younger children.

Chinese New Year even has its own version of the ball drop on the New Year’s Eve designated by the calendar. At midnight, a big bell is rung, signaling the start of the new year. Firecrackers and fireworks are also set off throughout the day, much like January 1st.

On the fifth day of the new year, it is believed that the gods of prosperity and wealth come down from the heavens. This makes it a common day to reopen businesses, and stores will set off firecrackers in hopes of a good year for commerce.

The last day of the new year, and perhaps one of the more well known activities that make up Chinese New Year, is the Festival of Lanterns. All types of lanterns, some in the shape of a rabbit or the year’s zodiac animal, are hung all around, often with poems or riddles inscribed on them for entertainment.

Each new year is assigned a zodiac animal as well as an element. The twelve animals, in order, are the Rat, the Ox, the Tiger, the Rabbit, the Dragon, the Snake, the Horse, the Goat, the Monkey, the Rooster, the Dog, and the Pig. There are variances, however, such as how some people say the Sheep instead of the Goat. The five elements are Wood, Earth, Fire, Water, and Metal or Gold. This year is the year of the Fire Monkey.

Every zodiac has it’s own attributes, and what sort of a person you are is based on what year you were born. For example, people born in the year of the Snake are supposed to be wise and charming people who mainly rely on their intelligence to get through tough situations. Don’t know your sign? Try out the Chinese Zodiac calculator on China Highlights.

Here are a couple of fun facts about Chinese New Year.

  • The two zodiac animals that are considered the most important during the new year are the dragon and the rabbit. This is because the Chinese believe they are descended from dragons, and a goddess named Chang E  was said to have brought a rabbit up with her to the moon so she wouldn’t be lonely.
  • The rat is considered lucky, since it has four toes on its front feet and five on it’s back. That’s why it is the first animal of the zodiac, although there is also a folk story saying that it’s because there was a race that the rat one, despite the odds against it.
  • Because families will often give singles a hard time during the new year, you can rent a boyfriend or girlfriend over the holiday.
  • The largest Chinese New Year celebration outside of China is in San Francisco.
  • Starbucks sells limited time Chinese New Year gift cards emblazoned with that year’s zodiac animal.