Ringing in the Year of the Pig

Lanterns hanging to celebrate the Chinese New Year

Tuesday, February 5th, communities across China and around the world rang in the Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year and the Spring Festival. The festivities continue through the 19th, and include a variety of traditions in the form of food, clothing, gift exchanges, parades, and more.

This year, 2019, is the Year of the Pig, the symbol of wealth in Chinese culture, as well as “optimism, enthusiasm, and being hardworking.” It’s thought that “people born in the year of the Pig think logically and are able to fix whatever problem they're in. They aren't good communicators, but they're kind and able to provide for the family. Most of them are wealthy. Their only obvious fault is that they lose their temper easily.”

Many may not know that the celebrations actually begin in the previous month: this year, the Laba festival was held on January 13th, an event in which “memorial ceremonies are held on this day to pray to ancestors and gods (such as door gods) for fortune and a successful harvest.” Specific foods are served during the Laba to represent different ideals, such as Laba porridge, which represents being grateful for what you have.

This website about the Chinese New Year has a useful table outlining the important dates throughout the Spring Festival.




January 28th

December 23rd

Little Year (小年—xiǎo nián)

February 4th

December 30th

New Year's Eve (除夕—chúxì)

February 5th

January 1st

Spring Festival (春节—chūn jié)

February 6th

January 2nd

To the in-law’s (迎婿日—yíng xù rì)

February 7th

January 3rd

Day of the Rat (鼠日—shǔ rì)

February 8th

January 4th

Day of the Sheep (羊日—yáng rì)

February 9th

January 5th

Break Five (破五—pò wǔ)

February 10th

January 6th

Day of the Horse (马日—mǎ rì)

February 11th

January 7th

Day of the Human (人日—rén rì)

February 12th

January 8th

Day of the Millet (谷日节—gǔ rì jié)

February 13th

January 9th

Providence Health (天公生—tiān gōng shēng)

February 14th

January 10th

Stone Festival (石头节—shí tou jié)

February 15th

January 11th

Son-in-law Day (子婿日—zǐ xù rì)

February 16th–18th

January 12th–14th

Lantern Festival Preparations

February 19th

January 15th

Lantern Festival (元宵节—yuán xiāo jié)

February 4th is New Year’s Eve, on which families make offerings to their ancestors and to various gods—of wealth, the hearth, health, to name a few examples. The offerings are following by a feast for the family, and children receive red envelopes, which hold “New Year’s money” or yasui qian.

February 5th marks the first day of the Lunar New Year, and the start of the Spring Festival. It is typically ushered in with firecrackers and the opening of their main gate or door, which they would have sealed with red paper to keep out the previous year’s bad luck. Families visit with their relatives and their friends, starting with the eldest and the paternal relatives. (February 6th is the day for the in-laws, for visiting the wife’s family.) Most shops will close down and remain closed for at least a portion of the fifteen days of the festival—the earliest day stores can open is the 9th, or “Break Five.”

The days that follow each have their own theme, and with those themes come expectations of who to visit, what to wear, what to eat, what to clean, etc. The final day of the festival is the Lantern Festival, where people display the lanterns that they would have constructed in the days prior. They eat rice flour dumplings and guess answers to the riddles they would have written on their lanterns.

Because of the focus on family and prosperity, the Chinese New Year can also be stressful for some people, especially young adults. The Washington Post recently looked at how single women in China look for excuses to stay behind during the festivities, fearing pressure from their families to find husbands. According to the article, “Some are asking their bosses for extra work during China’s biggest holiday, which falls on Feb. 5 this year. Others are inventing boyfriends. But still, the pressure mounts. Hospitals are reporting a spike in young people seeking treatment for anxiety.” These pressures, among others—including the expectation to come home every year for the holiday despite the potential financial hardship that travel might bring—highlight that while the holiday is deeply important, it has many of the same stressors that can come during the holiday season here in the United States. Our holidays may have different traditions and backgrounds, but we can all connect over the both the joy and the anxiety that can come with those celebrations as well.

Countries across southeast Asia can be expected to celebrate the Lunar New Year, but diaspora communities around the world also celebrate in their own ways. Shops may not necessarily close for five days in countries like the UK, United States, and Australia, but those taking part in festivities still eat traditional foods, exchange gifts, pray to their ancestors, and visit with family and friends.

In New York City, multiple celebrations happen across the boroughs, including Manhattan’s Firecracker Ceremony and Cultural Festival in Chinatown on the 5th, and the Chinese New Year Temple Bazaar in Flushing, Queens on the 17th. The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., will host free musical and dance performances from the 7th to the 9th, and Chinatown will host the District’s annual parade on the 10th. London will also celebrate the Chinese New Year on the 10th with a parade that will travel through Chinatown, as well as a number of activities, performances, and food stalls around Trafalgar Square and the West End.

Does your community have Chinese New Year celebrations? Do you take part in any of the festival traditions? Let us know over on our Facebook!