The Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, has more than 4,000 years of history and is the longest holiday of the year. In the 21st century, the national holiday begins on the first of the Lunar Calendar and lasts until the 15th of the first month. In 2018, Chinese New Year begins on and ends .

In China, all stores are closed during the first five days of the Spring Festival, with some not opening until the very end. People must stock up on New Year supplies (年货—nian huo) beforehand and many begin on the Laba Festival. Kitchens will also show the first signs of Spring Festival dishes with the preparation of cured meat, salted fish and other preserved food.

The Laba festival

However, in the traditional sense, the Laba Festival (腊八节—Làbā jié) of the lunar December (January 13th, 2019) marks the beginning of the Spring Festival. Memorial ceremonies are held on this day to pray to ancestors and gods (such as door gods) for fortune and a successful harvest. Though paganist in nature, the festival has become integrated into religions such as Daoism and Buddhism.

The main food for this festival is the Laba porridge (腊八粥—Làbā zhōu). It includes seven types of grains, such as red bean, red dates and husked rice. There are many different myths regarding this porridge, but all teach the lesson of being grateful and not taking what you have for granted.

In addition, the Laba menu includes Laba tofu (腊八豆腐—Làbā dòufu), noodles (腊八面—Làbā miàn) and wheat kernel rice (麦仁饭—Mài rén fàn). It is also said that eating ice on this day will prevent any stomachaches for the year.

The Spring Festival

Kicking off the main festivities is the Little Year on January 28th, with the Spring Festival officially beginning February 5th (February 4th is New Year's Eve) and ending with the Lantern Festival on February 19th. Here is a list of the most important dates for the Chinese New Year:

Solar date (2018) Lunar date Title
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 Preperations
February 19th January 15th Lantern Festival (元宵节—yuán xiāo jié)

The Spring Festival is long and has specific activities and traditions for each day. As usual, they vary between regions. Here is a short summary of what may be on the schedule.

  1. : Little Year (小年—xiǎo nián)

    In the past, government officials celebrated this day on the 23rd. Common folk celebrated on the 24th and fishermen on the 25th.

    • Lunar date
      December 23rd (腊月二十三—là yuè èr shí sān)
    • Solar (Gregorian) date
      January 28th, 2019
    • Activities & traditions
      This is another day of memorial and prayer ceremonies. Main activities include house cleaning to sweep away bad luck (扫年—sǎo nián) and pray to the stove god (祭灶—jì zào).
    • Food
      Sugar melons (糖瓜—táng guā), also known as stove candy (灶糖—Zào táng), are made of malt and can only be found on this day. Other food include baked wheat cakes (火烧 – huǒ shāo) and tofu soup (豆腐汤—dòufu tang).
  2. : New Year’s Eve (除夕—chúxì)

    Depending on the moon cycle, New Year’s Eve either lands on the 29th or 30th of the lunar December. Regardless, this day is also known as the 30th of the year (大年三十—dà nián sān shí).

    • Lunar date
      December 30th (腊月三十—là yuè sān shí)
    • Solar (Gregorian) date
      February 4th, 2019
    • Activities & traditions
      The reunion dinner, the most important meal of the year, takes place on this day. After dinner, the children will receive red envelopes. The family will then stay up late and wait for the New Year (守岁—shǒu suì).
    • Food
      A feast of everyone’s favorites and specialties.
  3. : Spring Festival (春节—chūn jié)

    The original name for this day was Yuán Dàn (元旦), with Yuan meaning “the beginning.” However, Yuan Dan is now used to refer to the New Year of the solar calendar.

    • Lunar date
      January 1st (正月初一—zhēng yuè chū yī)
    • Solar (Gregorian) date
      February 5th, 2019
    • Activities & traditions
      Firecrackers start off a day of greetings and blessings between neighbors. There are no specific activities other than celebrating the New Year. The ancient Chinese record and analyze the weather, stars and moon to predict the fortunes of the year. The practice is known as zhàn suì (占岁).
    • Food
      In addition to food from last night, people can also celebrate with Tu Su wine (屠苏酒—tú sū jiǔ).
    • Superstitions & beliefs
      It is forbidden to sweep or clean on this day, else good fortune will be swept away.
  4. : To the in-law’s (迎婿日—yíng xù rì)

    In northern regions, the events are held on the 3rd.

    • Lunar date
      January 2nd (正月初二—zhēng yuè chū èr)
    • Solar (Gregorian) date
      February 6th, 2019
    • Activities & traditions
      On this day, a married daughter must bring her husband and children to her parent’s home. She must bring a gift bag of crackers and candies, which her mother will divide between neighbors. This simple gift shows that “it’s the thought that counts” and expresses the daughter’s longing for her hometown.
    • Food
      Lunch is eaten together and the daughter should return to her husband’s home before dinner.
  5. : Day of the Rat (鼠日—shǔ rì)

    According to folktales, this is the day that rats marry.

    • Lunar date
      January 3rd (正月初三—zhēng yuè chū sān)
    • Solar (Gregorian) date
      February 7th, 2019
    • Activities & traditions
      People will leave some grains and crackers in corners to share their harvest with the rats. They will then go to sleep early in order to not disturb the “wedding.” This way, the rats will not disturb them during the year either.
  6. : Day of the Sheep (羊日—yáng rì)

    In Chinese mythology, the world was created by Nǚ Wā (女娲). Sheep were created on the 4th day.

    • Lunar date
      January 4th (正月初四—zhēng yuè chū sì)
    • Solar (Gregorian) date
      February 8th, 2019
    • Activities & traditions
      The god of wealth is prayed to on this day. Offerings include three types of meat, fruits and wine. At midnight, people will welcome the god in by opening the windows and eating and drinking until daybreak.
    • Food
      The welcoming of five gods (接五路—jiē wǔ lù) requires three tables of food. The first has kumquats and sugarcanes for a sweet life and successful road; cakes are on the second table. The third table has the main course of whole pig, whole chicken, whole fish and soup.
    • Superstitions & beliefs
      It’s forbidden to slaughter sheep on this day. Fair weather is a sign that the sheep will be healthy this year and the family will have a bountiful harvest.
  7. : Break Five (破五—pò wǔ)

    After praying to the god of wealth, markets and stores are able to open again. Women can also go out and give New Year blessings.

    • Lunar date
      January 5th (正月初五—zhēng yuè chū wǔ)
    • Solar (Gregorian) date
      February 9th, 2019
    • Food
      Dumplings (饺子—jiao zi) are eaten to bring in wealth. Traditionally, it should be eaten for five days straight. The rule isn’t followed too strictly anymore, but every household will have dumplings at least once.
    • Superstitions & beliefs
      Some say that taboos and activities forbidden on other days can be performed on the 5th. Others say it’s unfit to work on this day.
  8. : Day of the Horse (马日—mǎ rì)

    Nu Wa created the horse on the 6th day.

    • Lunar date
      January 6th (正月初六—zhèng yuè chū liù)
    • Solar (Gregorian) date
      February 10th, 2019
    • Activities & traditions
      After the “break five” of the day before, people can truly begin working again. People will also send the spirit of poverty away (送穷鬼—sòng qióng guǐ), supposedly a frail-looking man who liked to drink thin porridge and purposely turned his clothing into rags, by burning scraps and offering banana boat candles.
    • Superstitions & beliefs
      It is believed that the god of bathrooms (厕所神—cè suǒ shén) will visit to check the sanitary conditions, so every household will use this day to clean.
  9. : Day of the Human (人日—rén rì)

    On the 7th day, humans were created by Nu Wa. Celebrations for the Day of Humans originate from the Han dynasty.

    • Lunar date
      January 7th (正月初七—zhēng yuè chū qī)
    • Solar (Gregorian) date
      February 11th, 2019
    • Activities & traditions
      Ancient China had the tradition of wearing a hair accessory called rén sheng (人胜). Colorful cutouts and gold engravings of flowers and people were pasted onto screens.
    • Food
      Seven Gem Porridge (七宝羹—qī bǎo gēng) is the dish for this day. It includes seven types of vegetables: kale, leek, mustard leaves, celery, garlic, spring vegetable (春菜—chūn cài) and thick leaf vegetables (厚瓣菜—hòu bàn cài).
    • Superstitions & beliefs
      Fair weather is a sign of a safe and sound year.
  10. : Day of the Millet (谷日节—gǔ rì jié)

    According to legends, this is the millet grain’s birthday. Agriculture was the basis of ancient Chinese society and people highly valued the grain.

    • Lunar date
      January 8th (正月初八—zhēng yuè chū ba)
    • Solar (Gregorian) date
      February 12th, 2019
    • Activities & traditions
      Pets such as fish and birds are released back into the wild to show respect to nature. In modern times, some families visit rural areas to learn about agriculture. This helps children appreciate farmers’ hard work and become more environmentally-aware.
    • Superstitions & beliefs
      Fair weather is a sign of a fruitful harvest. A gray sky warns of a year of losses. Stores opened today will have great business.
  11. : Providence Health (天公生—tiān gōng shēng)

    This is the birthday of the highest god, the Jade Emperor (玉皇大帝—yù huáng dà dì). In Daoism, he is the sovereign of the universe and is the ultimate representation of “sky.”

    • Lunar date
      January 9th (正月初九—zhēng yuè chū jiu)
    • Solar (Gregorian) date
      February 13th, 2019
    • Activities & traditions
      The main activities are ceremonies for the Jade Emperor. In some regions, women will bring fragrant flower candles to natural wells, harbors or open space and pray to the gods.
    • Superstitions & beliefs
      Before praying, everyone must fast and bathe. If there is a meat offering, the animal must be male.
  12. : Stone Festival (石头节—shí tou jié)

    Ten (十—shí) has the same pronunciation as rock (石). Therefore, this is the birthday of the Rock.

    • Lunar date
      January 10th (正月初十—zhēng yuè chū shí)
    • Solar (Gregorian) date
      February 14th, 2019
    • Activities & traditions
      In some regions, the people will freeze a clay jar onto a smooth stone the night before. On the morning of the 10th, ten youths will carry the jar around. If the stone doesn’t fall, it’s a sign of a good harvest.
    • Food
      Lunch is a meal of baked bread (馍饼—mó bǐng). It is believed that after eating, the road to wealth will be open and smooth for that year.
    • Superstitions & beliefs
      It is forbidden to use stone tools, such as rollers and millstones.
  13. : Son-in-law Day (子婿日—zǐ xù rì)

    Fathers will invite their daughters and son-in-law’s to dinner on this day.

    • Lunar date
      January 11th (正月十一—zhēng yuè shí yī)
    • Solar (Gregorian) date
      February 15th, 2019
    • Food
      Even after meals the day before, there are usually plenty of leftovers from Tiangong Sheng. The family uses this to treat the in-law.
  14. : Lantern Festival Preparations

    During this period people will begin preparations for the Lantern Festival (元宵节 – Yuán xiāo jié) by purchasing lanterns and constructing light sheds.

    • Lunar date
      January 12th–14th (正月十二-十四—zhèng yuè shí’èr—shí’sì)
    • Solar (Gregorian) date
      February 16th–18th, 2019
    • Superstitions & beliefs
      The saying goes: make noise on the 11th, build light sheds on the 12th, light the lantern on the 13th, light is bright on the 14th, a full moon on the 15th, end the light on the 16th. It has a nice rhythm in Chinese and summarizes the activities of the next few days.
  15. : Lantern Festival (元宵节—yuán xiāo jié)

    The festival lasted ten days in the Ming dynasty, but is now only five days in modern times.

    • Lunar date
      January 15th (正月十五—zhēng yuè shí wǔ)
    • Solar (Gregorian) date
      February 19th, 2019
    • Activities & traditions
      Creating lanterns is the most important activity during the festival. Lantern Riddles (猜灯谜—cāi dēng mí) is a game played by writing riddles on lanterns. As it is a full moon that day, moon-gazing amidst lanterns is the best way to celebrate.
    • Food
      Named after the festival, yuan xiao are glutinous rice balls often eaten as a dessert. Either boiled, steamed or fried, they represent reunions.
    • Superstitions & beliefs
      Lanterns (天灯—tiān dēng) sounds similar to (添丁—tiān dīng), or “add children.” Many will light lanterns in hopes of adding children to the family.