Chinese New Year: A brief history and all you need to know about CNY 2020!

Chinese lanterns
The lucky colour!

CNY 2020 is almost here and is widely celebrated by people all over the world. If you are unaware of what this festival is all about, it’s time to learn.

Chinese New Year is one of the most important holidays in Chinese culture. With a history dating back to over 3,800 years, this traditional Chinese festival is celebrated with much grandeur in Greater China. This day marks the beginning of a new year on a Chinese calendar. Globally known as Lunar New Year and Spring festival, this holiday has a rich history and we are here to tell you all about it.

Chinese New Year History

Performance during CNY 

Though there is no definite evidence of when the Chinese New Year celebrations began, it’s said that the practise began during the Shang Dynasty (1766 BC- 1122 BC). But there are some who believe that the celebrations started during Emperor Yao and Shun’s reigns (~ 2300 BC). The festival is celebrated on the first day of the first month in the Chinese New Year Calendar. The date was fixed during the Han Dynasty reign (202 BC- 220 AD).

Just like any other festival, Chinese New Year has a story behind it. One of the most popular stories about CNY is the one that involves a beast named Nian who fed on the livestock, people, and crops on the eve of every new year.

Afraid of the beast, one year, all the villages decided to hide from the beast on the eve of New year. But a wise old man named Yanhuang from the village decided that he’d stay back and take revenge on the beast. The villagers thought he was crazy and left him to his fate. The old man put up bright red paper everywhere and lit firecrackers. When they returned the next day, they saw that the village was intact and there was no destruction. They found out Yanhuang had figured out that the beast Nian was afraid of the scarlet colour and loud noises.

From the next year, the tradition grew. As the New year approached, the villagers would don red clothes, hang red streamers/decorations, hang red lanterns and burst firecrackers. This scared away the beast and he never returned to the village again.

Since the beast does not appear in any ancient texts, many believe that the story is just a myth. For many, CNY is just a harvest festival where the harvest is reviewed at the end of the year and look forward to the next year’s harvest.

Chinese New Year in Modern times

CNY 2020 celebrations with family

CNY celebrations have changed quite a bit over the last few decades. Even though it is still the most celebrated festival of the year, the way it’s celebrated has changed a bit. In the year 1912, the newly formed Chinese government renamed the holiday as ‘Spring festival’ in order to get people to follow the Western New Year.

Chinese New Year traditions

But it is still the longest Chinese holiday and the celebrations last up to 40 days. People travel from different places to spend time with their family for this special festival. Traditionally, it’s said that you have to spend time with your family for a while and can only get out on the 5th day. The celebrations nowadays include putting up decorations (in red colour), sending time with family, bursting firecrackers, and exchanging gifts and red envelopes.

Person handing red packet to a child

Handing out Red envelopes (Ang bao) is a common gifting tradition for CNY. The envelopes contain money and the colour red is supposed to bring in luck. 

Chinese New Year Food

One of the important traditions of the Chinese New Year is the ‘Reunion Dinner’ where families have dinner together. The celebrations also include gorging on certain food items that symbolise luck. 

CNY 2020- Year of the Rat!

Cartoonised rat family preparing for CNY 2020

This year, the Chinese New Year falls on 25th January. The Chinese Zodiac consists of 12 animals which denote the 12 years on which the calendar is based on. CNY 2020 is the year of the rat according to the Chinese Zodiac calendar. The rat symbolises characteristics such as intellect, alertness, and spirit.

Are you celebrating CNY 2020? What is your favourite part of CNY celebrations? Let me know in the comments!


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