Learn About Chinese New Year: Rituals, Food, Family
Learn About Chinese New Year: Rituals, Food, Family

Learn About Chinese New Year: Rituals, Food, Family

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
Chinese New Year is based on a myth that involved a monster eating crops and people from Chinese villages. The population was finally able to drive the monster away due to his fear of the color red, and by leaving food on their doorsteps, and so what followed was jubilant celebration. While that myth is not as relevant to celebrations today, that doesn't make present-day Chinese New Year any less remarkable. This holiday is seen as a time to gather with family and partake in the ancient rituals associated with the festival. In this video, learns more about the cultural and historical significance of Chinese New Year.

History of Chinese New Year

This is the most important traditional Chinese holiday. Welcome to, and today we’ll be learning more about Chinese New Year.

The Chinese Calendar

Chinese New Year begins on the first day of spring as determined by the luni-solar Chinese calendar. Also known as Lunar New Year or the Spring Festival, it ushers in a period of renewal.

Ancient Myths

Traditionally, it is believed that a mythical beast called Nian tormented villages by eating crops, farm animals and even children. Villagers thwarted the monster by leaving food on their doorsteps and by discovering his fear of the color red. The monster was ultimately captured, which left the villagers to celebrate.

Zodiac Signs

The Chinese calendar dates back to roughly the 14th century B.C.E., and the New Year is based on that calendar. To calculate the schedule, lunar phases, solar equinoxes and solstices, Chinese Zodiac signs and more are taken into account. Each year is ascribed the traits of one of the twelve zodiac animals: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.

Cleaning the Home

To get ready for the coming holiday, families thoroughly clean their homes as an offering to the gods, and as a way to cleanse the sins of the previous year.


Citizens also give ritual sacrifices to the gods in the form of food and paper crafts. The importance of the color red is evident in the home’s decorations, and in the color of the envelopes used to present children with gifts of money.

Celebrations for Luck

Huge, elaborate fireworks and the loud drum beats of the dragon and lion dances ward off bad spirits and serve as a celebration. Most rituals associated with Chinese New Year bring good fortune to the home.


Traditionally, family and the home are the main focus over the holidays, and work stops almost completely. For the year’s first days, tempers are kept in check and only kind words are used.


Food is another part of the ritual: the New Year’s Eve reunion dinner is a multi-course feast that includes pork and chicken, as well as a number of other symbolic foods. Long noodles represent longevity, while round dumplings are eaten on the fifteenth and last day of celebrations in a depiction of that night’s full moon. Fish is also consumed at the reunion dinner as a representation of abundance, but it is left unfinished and the leftovers are kept overnight.

The Lantern Festival

Chinese New Year celebrations are officially ended by the Lantern Festival, where the sky is a sea of bright and colorful lanterns.

Evolution of Celebrations

Like most ancient traditions, celebrations have evolved. China switched to the Gregorian calendar in 1912, and by 1949 Communist Dictator Mao Zedong’s regime had outlawed traditional Chinese New Year celebrations.

Present-Day Holiday

However, festivities resumed in the 1990s, and grew exponentially. In the yearly chunyun, citizens travel home to celebrate with family in the world’s largest annual migration. A gala is also televised each year, which families sometimes watch together.

A Colorful Holiday

The colorful traditions of Chinese New Year spread across the world with local Chinese populations. With festive rituals and a sense of renewal, it’s no wonder this custom has lasted for centuries.