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Celebrating the Chinese New Year: The Year of the Ox

A young girl writing Chinese characters on red paper

For 15 days each year, people in China, and many other parts of the world, mark the end of winter and the beginning of spring with the Chinese New Year. Also known as the Lunar New Year, the festival begins with the new moon and lasts until the next full moon. Because of that, the date ranges from January 21 to February 20. The origins of the holiday can be traced back 3,500 years to the Shang Dynasty, when people held sacrificial ceremonies in honor of gods and ancestors at the beginning of each year.

Many myths and legends are also associated with the origins of the Chinese New Year. One of them centers on a beast named Nian, who would attack villagers at the beginning of each new year. Because the monster was afraid of loud noises, bright lights and the color red, people put red lanterns and other red decorations on their windows to chase him away.

Today, customs surrounding the holiday include dressing in red clothes and giving children money in red envelopes—in keeping with the belief that red represents joy and prosperity. People decorate their windows with red paper cut-outs and put words written in Chinese calligraphy on red paper on walls and doors. A popular word is “fu,” which means “happiness and good fortune.”

Visiting and feasting with family members is one of the main traditions of the celebration, which begins on Chinese New Year’s Eve with a big dinner consisting of dumplings, chicken and pork. Another tradition involves thoroughly cleaning the house in hopes of getting rid of any lingering bad luck and making way for good luck and prosperity in the coming year. The Chinese New Year is also a time to honor relatives who have died.

The holiday culminates with the Lantern Festival, during which people hang lanterns in temples and carry them during a nighttime parade. Celebrations in many places include a procession featuring a long, colorful dragon—another symbol of good luck.

In Chinese culture, each year is associated with one of 12 Zodiac signs—Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. The 2021 Chinese New Year, beginning on February 12, is the Year of the Ox. This animal is highly valued because of its role in agriculture and other characteristics associated with it, such as being hardworking and honest. The last Year of the Ox was in 2009.

Townscape of Uchisar, Cappadocia, Turkey