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5 Facts that You Must Know About New Year of The Rat

Jan.21, 2020

Chinese people don't have a particular interest in the 31st of December c.q. the 1st of January. What the whole country is excited about is the Chinese New Year! Chinese people call the whole celebration-过年guònián. The importance of this celebration can be compared with the importance of Christmas in most western cultures.

The general duration of "过年" is 3 weeks, including the preceding preparing week, the New Year holiday week (the national public holiday of this year: 24th, Jan to 30th, Jan) and the third week ending up with the Lantern Festival (8th, Feb). People will plan their holidays accordingly from 1-3 weeks.

In this article, I would like to give you an all-round guide to understand the upcoming 鼠年 Shǔnián (Year of the Rat/Mouse). As I summarize below, I believe there are 5 facts that you can't miss about Chinese New Year. Let's check them out one by one!

1.  The 12 Zodiac Calendar

You must know that most Chinese national holidays are set according to lunar calendar. Chinese people didn't use the solar calendar (Western calendar) until 1912. But why "Rat/Mouse" this year?What do the animals stand for each year?

The Chinese zodiac is a classification scheme that assigns an animal and its reputed attributes to each year in a repeating 12-year cycle. The 12-year cycle is an approximation based on the 11.85-year orbital period of Jupiter.

The 12 animals and 12-year cycle start from the rat, followed by ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat/sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. That's why Chinese people call 12 years "one round/cycle"- "一轮yìlún".

5 Facts that You Must Know About New Year of The Rat

"12 Chinese Zodiacs", which one is yours?

The coming new year, in the name of the rat (shǔ), is special in the Chinese culture. As I said earlier, "rat" is at the start of the 12 zodiacs. Year of the Rat is the start of a new round! There are countless folk stories spread through China over many thousands of years. These stories vary as to the reason for that animal having the privilege to be included in the Chinese Zodiac.

One of the most famous legends is:

The Jade Emperor decreed that the years on the calendar would be named for each animal in the order they reached him. To get there, the animals would have to cross a river. The Cat and the Rat were very bad at swimming, but they were both quite intelligent. They decided that the best and fastest way to cross the river was to hop on the back of the Ox. The Ox, being kindhearted and naive, agreed to carry them both across. As the Ox was about to reach the other side of the river, the Rat pushed the Cat into the water, and then jumped off the Ox and rushed to the Jade Emperor. It was named as the first animal of the zodiac calendar.

The Rat maybe isn't modern people's favourite but if you see them from the ancestors' perspective, the Rat was admired for its cunning and agility. In addition, the fertility of the rats also makes itself an auspicious symbol in ancient society.

2. Chinese New Year's Eve

One of the most important routines for Chinese people in the New Year's Eve, is the dinner (年夜饭niányèfàn). This meal is comparable to Thanksgiving dinner in the U.S. and relatively similar to a traditional Christmas dinner.

Dumplings play a very important role on the table of Chinese New Year Eve's dinner especially in the north

Chinese people try very hard to "save" luck for the whole year during CNY celebration. So all the food on the dinner table can symbolize fortune and luck.

Dumplings-饺子-jiǎozi, symbolize wealth because their shape resembles ancient Chinese money.

Rice cake-年糕-niángāo, equals progress because "niángāo" has a homophonous meaning of "increasingly prosperous year in year out".

Fish-鱼-yú, means abundance because "yú" sounds the same as "surplus".

Traditionally, people stay up for the whole night after the feast to welcome the New Year. Lots of people will choose to go out to set off firecrackers in midnight. You probably won't hear firecrackers at midnight in Shanghai now, as the government in the past few years has forbidden firecrackers for a variety of safety reasons. However, if you go to other smaller cities to celebrate the New Year, you will see the whole city is lit up by tons of the firecrackers and fireworks to scare away evil spirits for the New Year.

3. The Spring Festival Gala of China Central Television

Beginning in 1982, CCTV held this Gala to accompany Chinese people to practice the tradition of staying up late "守岁shǒusuì". This tradition of going to bed late on New Year's Eve, or staying awake the whole night is thought to add on to parents' longevity.

The CCTV New Year's Gala is broadcast in China four hours before the start of the New Year and lasts until early morning the next day. Watching it has gradually become a tradition in China.

Today, after almost 40 years, even though the TV industry has been strongly impacted by Internet,this Gala remains a special element in Chinese people's cultural life. The gala this year will gather hundreds of the most popular Chinese celebrities, and this has already caused a bustle on the Internet.

4.  Greetings during the CNY holiday

Chinese people love lucky words during CNY holidays and they hate to hear some negative things to break the whole year's fortune. Therefore, from now on and during the holiday you should try to greet in this way!

Greetings in the CNY Holiday
There're some general words you can use every year, such as:


Guò nián hǎo!

Happy Chinese New Year celebration!


Xīnchūn kuàilè/jíxiáng!

Wish you a happy/auspicious Spring Festival!


Gongxǐ fācái!

May you be happy and prosperous!

As every Chinese New year has a Zodiac, so Chinese people will make some special lines related to the animal. This year is 鼠年shǔnián (Year of the Rat), so you can also say:


Shǔ nián dà jí!

Wish you a greatly auspicious Year of the Rat!

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They also like to play with the pronunciation of the animal's name. "Rat/Mouse" is "shǔ" in Chinese, it sounds the same as "shǔyú",meaning "belong to" in Chinese. So you can see some advertisements with this line:


Hǎoyùn shǔyú nì!

Good luck belongs to you!

Disney's ad of Chinese New Year 2020

I'm supposed to finish this article with 4 points, but you know, we hate 4 (Homophonic with death-死sǐ in Chinese), especially during the festival celebration. So here's the last but not the least point:

5. The CNY decoration

Spring Festival Scrolls 春联 Chūnlián

春联Chūnlián are composed of a pair of poetry lines vertically pasted on both sides of the front door and a four-character horizontal scroll affixed above the doorframe. The couplets express Chinese people's delight in the festival and wishes for a better life in the coming year.

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The red diamond-shaped FU福 character

福 (Fú, blessings, happiness) is played in Chinese homes. This sign is usually seen hanging upside down, since the Chinese word 倒 (dào, upside-down), is a homophone with 到 (dào, arrive) in Chinese. Therefore, it symbolizes the arrival of happiness and prosperity.

Fu character- CNY

I hope you can enjoy the Chinese New Year celebration more with these explanations! It's definitely a good opportunity to understand and experience Chinese culture during the Spring Festival. I wish you all have fun in the next few weeks!


Chūnjié kuàilè!Shǔnián dàjí!

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5 Facts that You Must Know About New Year of The Rat