May 19, 2024

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The History and Traditions of the Chinese New Year

3 min read

year-of-the-horse Chinese New Year is almost upon us and come January 31st, the celebrations will begin not just in China, but in many locations around the world.

While little is known about the exact beginning of the New Year’s celebrations in China, one such legend says the celebrations began after an attack, on New Year’s Eve, from a mythical beast called the ‘Year’ – orNián’ in Mandarin. The beast, which was said to have the appearance of an ox but with a lion’s head, emerged from the sea and attacked people, animals and properties. It was later discovered that the ‘Year’ was afraid of the colour red, fire and loud sounds, and with this many traditions began to ward off the beast.

With Chinese New Year celebrations said to be born out of this fear and myth, many other traditions have developed over the years – traditions that continue to be followed today. As the most important holiday in China, and an occasion that is celebrated in many other places around the world, the color red, fireworks and lanterns are all synonymous with Chinese New Year, and here we take a look at them and a few of the other traditions Nián has brought about.

The Animals of the Zodiac

Animals of the Zodiac

One of the most symbolic elements of Chinese New Year is the animals of the zodiac–this is the Year of the Horse. How these animals came about and the order they appear in is something of disputed legend. The most common story however is that when putting together the new calendar, the Jade Emperor (The Emperor in heaven, in Chinese folklore) ordered that he would be designating animals as calendar signs and the first twelve to arrive would be selected.

This led to a race across the river which ended with the rat finishing first, but not before he had pushed the cat in the water. This is said to have created tension that has lasted through the ages and has caused the two animals to become mortal enemies ever since.

In second place came the ox, next came the tiger, then the rabbit, fifth came the dragon who had helped the rabbit, then came the snake who pipped the horse to sixth by hiding on his hoof and then came the sheep, monkey and rooster who arrived on a raft together and took eighth, ninth and tenth places respectively. Last to finish were the dog, who was too busy washing himself, and the pig, who was taking a nap.


Chinese New Year Fireworks

Said to drive away evil, the use of fireworks at Chinese New year stems from the use of loud noise to ward off the beast. At 12 am, on New Year’s Eve, fireworks are launched to celebrate the New Year and to drive away evil. According to myth, it is believed that the first person to launch fireworks in the New Year will be the one to get good luck.

Red Packets

Another tradition that stems from the legend of the beast are red packets. Red packets are envelopes which contain money and are given by adults to young children in the New Year. It is believed that by receiving the money, any evil will be suppressed from the children and they will be kept healthy and will live a long life.


Before the New Year comes, one widely followed tradition is to completely clean your home, both inside and out. Doing this is believed to get rid of the old and ward off the evil whilst welcoming in the new. According to superstition this must be done before the New Year arrives. If cleaning takes place during the New Year, all of the good luck is believed to be swept out of the front door.

The Dragon

chinese-new-year-2014 Believed to bring prosperity, good luck, and good fortune, the dragon is ever-present in New Year celebrations. According to folklore, the Chinese people are descendants of this mythical creature. On the 15th day of the New Year in China, the dragon plays a large role in the celebrations with widespread dancing and dragon performances taking place.

If you are saying Kung Hei Fat Choy (Happy New Year) come January 31st and are holding Chinese New Year celebrations of your own, why not take a look at Jordans Fireworks where you will find all of the Chinese lanterns, fireworks and firecrackers that you will need.