The Fundamentals of Chinese New Year

Learn About Traditions and How to Say Happy New Year in Chinese

Jinli street, Chengdu, Sichuan, China
Chinese New Year Is an extremely important celebration in Chinese culture. kiszon pascal / Getty Images

Chinese New Year is the most important festival in Chinese culture. It is celebrated on the new moon of the first month according to the lunar calendar and is a time for family reunions and scrumptious feasts.

While Chinese New Year is celebrated in Asian countries like China and Singapore, it is also celebrated in Chinatowns spanning New York City to San Francisco. Take the time to learn about traditions and how to wish others a happy new year in Chinese so that you can also partake in Chinese New Year festivities wherever you are in the world.

How Long Is Chinese New Year?

Chinese New Year traditionally lasts from the first day to the 15th day of the New Year (which is the Lantern Festival), but the demands of modern life mean that most people don’t get such an extended holiday. Still, the first five days of the New Year are an official holiday in Taiwan, while workers in Mainland China and Singapore get at least 2 or 3 days off.

Home Decor

A chance to leave the problems of the previous year behind, it is important to start the New Year fresh. This means cleaning up the house and buying new clothes.

Homes are decorated with red paper banners which have auspicious couplets written on them. These are hung around doorways and are intended to bring luck to the household for the coming year.

Red is an important color in Chinese culture, symbolizing prosperity. Many people will wear red clothing during the New Year celebrations, and houses will have many red decorations such as Chinese knotwork.

Red Envelopes

Red envelopes (►hóng bāo) are given to children and unmarried adults. Married couples also give red envelopes to their parents.

The envelopes contain money. The money must be in new bills, and the total amount must be an even number. Certain numbers (such as four) are bad luck, so the total amount should not be one of these unlucky numbers. “Four” is a homonym for “death”, so a red envelope should never contain $4, $40, or $400.


Evil spirits are said to be driven away by loud noise, so Chinese New Year is a very loud celebration. Long strings of firecrackers are set off throughout the holiday, and there are many displays of fireworks lighting up the evening skies.

Some countries such as Singapore and Malaysia restrict the use of fireworks, but Taiwan and Mainland China still allow the nearly unrestricted use of firecrackers and fireworks.

Chinese Zodiac

The Chinese zodiac cycles every 12 years, and each lunar year is named after an animal. For example: 

  • Rooster: January 28, 2017 - February 18, 2018
  • Dog : February 19, 2018 - February 04, 2019
  • Pig: February 05, 2019 - January 24, 2020
  • Rat: January 25, 2020 - February 11, 2021
  • Ox: February 12, 2021 - January 31, 2022
  • Tiger : February 1, 2022 - February 19, 2023
  • Rabbit: February 20, 2023 - February 8, 2024
  • Dragon: February 10, 2024 - January 28, 2025
  • Snake: January 29, 2025 - February 16, 2026
  • Horse: February 17, 2026 - February 5, 2027
  • Sheep: February 6, 2027 - January 25, 2028
  • Monkey: January 26, 2028 - February 12, 2029

How to Say Happy New Year in Mandarin Chinese

There are many saying and greeting associated with the Chinese New Year. Family members, friends, and neighbors greet each other with congratulations and wishes for prosperity. The most common greeting is 新年快乐 – ►Xīn Nián Kuài Lè; this phrase directly translates to “Happy New Year.” Another common greeting is 恭喜发财 – ►Gōng Xǐ Fā Cái, which means "Best wishes, wishing you prosperity and wealth." The phrase can also colloquially be shortened to just 恭喜 (gōng xǐ).

In order to get their red envelope, children have to bow to their relatives and recite 恭喜发财,红包拿来 ►Gōng xǐ fā cái, hóng bāo ná lái. This means "Best wishes for prosperity and wealth, give me a red envelope."

Here is a list of Mandarin greetings and other phrases that are heard during the Chinese New Year. Audio files are marked with ►

Pinyin Meaning Traditional Characters Simplified Characters
gōng xǐ fā cái Congratulations and Prosperity 恭喜發財 恭喜发财
xīn nián kuài lè Happy New Year 新年快樂 新年快乐
guò nián Chinese New Year 過年 过年
suì suì ping ān (Said if something breaks during New Year to ward off bad luck.) 歲歲平安 岁岁平安
nián nián yǒu yú Wishing you prosperity every year. 年年有餘 年年有馀
fàng biān pào set off firecrackers 放鞭炮 放鞭炮
nián yè fàn New Year’s Eve family dinner 年夜飯 年夜饭
chú jiù bù xīn Relace the old with the new (proverb) 除舊佈新 除旧布新
bài nián pay a New Year’s visit 拜年 拜年
hóng bāo Red Envelope 紅包 红包
yā suì qián money in the red envelope 壓歲錢 压岁钱
gōng hè xīn xǐ Happy New Year 恭賀新禧 恭贺新禧
___ nián xíng dà yùn Good luck for the year of the ____. ___年行大運 ___年行大运
tiē chūn lián red banners 貼春聯 贴春联
bàn nián huò New Year shopping 辦年貨 办年货
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Your Citation
Su, Qiu Gui. "The Fundamentals of Chinese New Year." ThoughtCo, Aug. 10, 2021, Su, Qiu Gui. (2021, August 10). The Fundamentals of Chinese New Year. Retrieved from Su, Qiu Gui. "The Fundamentals of Chinese New Year." ThoughtCo. (accessed April 2, 2023).