Chinese New Year Facts for Kids
In 2021, Chinese New Year is celebrated on Friday 12th February.
This date changes every year because the festival is based on the lunar calendar, which follows the movement of the moon. Chinese New Year typically falls somewhere between mid-January and mid-February, and celebrations last for a total of 15 days!
The Story of Nian
The Chinese New Year has been celebrated for around 3,500 years. According to one ancient legend, a monster called Nian terrorised a village every New Year’s Eve, until they learnt that the colour red and the noise of firecrackers frightened him off.
Because of this story, today during Chinese New Year, the colour red is both worn and used for decorations as it is thought to ward off evil and bring good luck. Firecrackers and fireworks are set off at midnight on New Year’s Eve to further scare away bad spirits and welcome in the new year.
The Chinese Zodiac
The Chinese zodiac calendar has a cycle of 12 years, and each of these years is represented by a different animal: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig (they always occur in this order - read on to find out why!).
The origins of the twelve zodiac animals lie in another Chinese legend: Many years ago, the Jade Emperor decided his people needed a better way to measure time. He decided he would name twelve different years after twelve animals so that everyone could keep track of the passing years. He challenged the animals to take part in a special race. The twelve winners of the race would each have a year named after them - in the order in which they won. As you can see from the list above, the rat came first!
Chinese New Year Traditions
New Year’s Eve - On this day, families come together to enjoy a reunion dinner. It is considered to be the most important meal of the year. There is lots of food, which traditionally includes dumplings, chicken, pork and fish. After the reunion dinner, gifts of money are traditionally handed out to the younger members of the family in small red envelopes.
New Year’s Day - On the morning of the first day of the new year, families set off firecrackers before leaving the house, in order to scare away evil spirits. They then visit relatives, friends and neighbours to wish them a Happy New Year.
“Po Wu”- This is the fifth day of the Chinese New Year celebrations, when people clean their homes, and make and eat dumplings. Some of them are filled with nuts or sweets - it is believed that whoever eats these dumplings will have good luck for the year.
The Lantern Festival - This is the 15th and final day of the celebrations. Everyone goes out onto the streets to celebrate. Dragon and lion teams provide entertainment with their brightly coloured costumes and by dancing to the beat of drums and cymbals. Lighting and enjoying paper lanterns is the main activity of the festival, and they are hung up everywhere, including homes, shopping centres, parks and streets. Lighting lanterns is a way for people to pray for a successful future, for themselves and their families.
Other interesting facts about Chinese New Year:
- Chinese New Year is also known as the Spring Festival.
- Around ⅙ of the world’s population celebrate the Chinese New Year.
- It is the longest public holiday in China, with most people taking 7-12 days off work.
- Showering or bathing is not allowed on Chinese New Year’s Day, in case you wash away the good luck for the year!
- The amount of money given to children in the red envelopes never includes the number ‘4’, as the pronunciation of this number in Chinese sounds like the word for ‘death’, and so is considered very unlucky.
- The Chinese phrases ‘Guo Nian Hao’ or ‘Xin Nian Kuai le’ mean ‘Happy New Year’.
- Bamboo was used as the earliest ‘firecracker’ during the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), when there was no gunpowder or paper. The bamboo was simply thrown in the fire, and as it burned it made a popping sound.
- Tang Yuan (rice balls in a sweet syrup) are the traditional food of the Lantern Festival. They have different fillings including sugar, sesame seeds, nuts, rose petals and bean paste. Their shape and colour resembles the full moon.
If you want to find out more about the traditions associated with this festival, the animals of the Chinese Zodiac, or the Story of Nian, check out PlanBee’s Chinese New Year planning packs for KS1 and KS2 children here.