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Chinese New Year, the Chinese Calendar, and the Chinese Zodiac

Updated on March 15, 2013

By Joan Whetzel

New Year is considered one of the most important holidays in China. The Chinese call it Pinyin, which is pronounced Chēn Jié, and translates to Spring Festival. Though the Chinese New Year begins this year on January 23, 2012 it is still considered the beginning of spring according to the Chinese calendar.

What Is the Chinese New Year

The Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, marks the end of winter, much as Carnival marks the change of seasons between winter and spring in western traditions. The Chinese calendar is reckoned by the lunar cycle. The months begin on the darkest day. The New Year, then begins on the first day of the first month and end on the fifteenth day, when the moon is full. During this holiday, families gather on the eve of the New Year to close out the old year with the Lantern Festival and a reunion dinner. The Chinese New Year, historically, has been a time for people to reflect on past behavior and on what they believe.

Chinese Calendar

The Chinese Lunar Calendar, with its cycles of the zodiac, dates from about 2600 BC when it was introduced by the Emperor Huang Ti. It's a yearly calendar based on the cycles of the moon, with the New Year's Day falling between late January and mid-February. One complete calendar cycle consists of 5 cycles of the 12 zodiacal years, or a total of 60 years.

Each year of the Chinese Lunar Calendar is named after one of twelve animals. Legend has it that Buddha send for all the animals to him before he took his leave from Earth, but only 12 animals appeared before him to say their goodbyes. Buddha's reward was to name a year of the calendar after each of them. According to Chinese tradition, whenever a child is born, the calendar year's ruling animal has profoundly affects that person's personality for the remainder of their life.

Chinese Zodiac

The Chinese Zodiac consists of 12 animals, one for each year of the 12 year cycle. The zodiac animals are separated into three groups, or categories.

1) The first group comprises the 6 zodiac signs considered to be tamed animals - the ox, goat, horse, pig, rooster, and the dog. These are the domestic animals people raise for monetary purposes as well as to feed their family. They are important to China's agricultural traditions, so if their livestock prospers, so does their family.

2) This second category consists of the wild animals which are considered to be closely connected to everyday life and to the social lives of people. This category includes the tiger, rabbit, snake, mouse, and the monkey. Some of these animals, namely the snake and the tiger, inspire awe and are said to interfere in the lives of people. Others, like the mouse, cause fear among humans but are dependent on humans for their life (food). The monkey and rabbit are considered animals that humans like.

3) The final category contains one mythological creature - the dragon, the traditional symbol of the Chinese people. This animal symbolizes luck, wealth, and auspiciousness (something that shows or implies that future success is expected).

If you missed the celebrations and fireworks of the western New Year's Eve (Dec. 31, 2011), don't worry. You can always celebrate with the Chinese New Year for 2012. This year, the Year of the Dragon, begins January 23, 2012.


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