Chinese New Year Explained xīnnián kuàilè Year of the Pig

chinese new year
chinese new year

The Chinese New year starts on the 5th Feb 2019.  2019 will be Year of the Pig. They select the animal from the Chinese Zodiac which runs for a 12-year cycle before it repeats.

Why is Chinese New Year Celebrated

The Chinese New Year is the most important and also the longest Chinese celebrated festival in the calendar. The day is celebrated across the world and is marked as a public holiday in China and many other countries. The celebration is the first day of the new year in the Chinese Calendar. We take a deep look into this event and London yet again will be putting on a show…

China town and nearby Trafalgar square leading the annual celebrations.

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Centre Stage, Chinese New Year at Trafalgar Square

In London, there is a list of events that centre on a purpose-built stage that Chinese people and representatives in the community then take part in providing a performance. Even the British weather will not dampen the event.

Chinese New Year Explained

We look at the most significant event in the Chinese Calendar, discovering the rituals and the cultural significance behind this celebrated day.

Pig traditional Chinese artwork
Pig traditional Chinese artwork

Why Does the Chinese Zodiac, Shēngxiào (Mandarin) run for 12 years?

Simple answer, it is the approximate orbit of the largest planet in our solar system, ten times bigger than earth, Jupiter. Jupiter Orbit is actually 11.85 years and its Orbit covers some 500 million miles.

What are the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac, Shēngxiào (Mandarin)

The Chinese New year follows the 12 cycles of the Chinese Zodiac, starting with the Rat and ends 12 years later with the year of the pig. The whole cycle repeats itself for the next 12-year zodiac cycle. They associate each animal against one of 5 earth natural elements; Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water.

According to Chinese astrology, the animal of the year you are born in describes you as a person and also describes how others perceive you as a person. To make things more interesting though, there are also a different set of animals assigned for each month of the year, known as inner animals. There is a saying, Kaisui or Tai Sui where a conflict exists between your Zodiac year animal and your inner month animal.

China Town and the Chinese New Year
China Town and the Chinese New Year
China town Pig decoration
China town Pig decoration

2019 is the year of the Pig, element Earth.

It also celebrated the Year of The Pig in 1923 water1935 wood1947 fire1959 earth1971 Gold, 1983 water, 1995 wood, 2007 fire, 2019 earth

inflatable Pig mascot
inflatable Pig mascot


Well-known people born in the year of the Pig.

King of England Henry VIII, Starlet of the Sound of Music Julie Andrews, Rachel Weisz actress, Chinese 20th C  author, a literary great Leo She, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Alfred Hitchcock, Stephen King, Ewan McGregor Actor, Actress Jenna Elfman, Singer Amy Winehouse, Past US president Ronald Reagan, Hillary Clinton US politician, Past Leader of the Republic of China Chiang Kai-shek, Singer Elton John, Oliver Cromwell past political and military English leader, Alexander the Great, Ernest Hemingway journalist, novelist, Michael Jackson singer-dancer, Father of modern Taxonomy Carl Linnaeus botanist, zoologist, physician, Carl Jung, Duke Ellington, Snoop Dog music artist, Edward I of England.

This link gives more details about lucky numbers, character traits.

Artwork of a Pig
Artwork of a Pig


Chinese New Year Red BannerChinese New Year Red Banner

Rat          鼠 (子) Water

Ox           牛 (丑) Earth

Tiger      虎 (寅) Wood

Rabbit   兔 (卯) Wood

Dragon  龍 (辰) Earth

Snake     蛇 (巳) Fire

Horse     馬 (午) Fire

Goat       羊 (未) Earth

Monkey 猴 (申) Metal

Rooster 雞 (酉) Metal

Dog         狗 (戌) Earth

Pig           豬 (亥) Water


Importance of Colour in the Chinese Culture

Red is Fire, Happy New Year
red Chinese Lanterns London


Colour is linked to the 5 elements

  • Red is Fire
  • Yellow is Earth
  • White is Metal
  • Black is water
  • Green/Blue is Wood

Red Chinese Symbol

You will find red everywhere during the Chinese New Year, and there is a superb reason that is the case. It is the symbolic colour of happiness, so much so they forbid it to be on display during funerals.

Red Chinese Symbol good luck, happiness, Salutations “Safe Journey in the new year, prosperous new year, abundance in the new year, may your wishes come true in the new year. Red is Fire, the earth element of good luck, not only at New Year but other significant events of national celebration.


Happiness and prosperity, may your work go. Many paper cutouts, symbolic posters that contain symmetry symbols words and rules for their placement. Left resembling health contentment family, Right representing good luck.

Peony flowers honour and wealth, kumquat tree, a pine tree eternal youth, magpies on plum trees forewarn of a lucky event that will soon happen.

peony Flower
peony Flower

 Red  Chinese Designer couture Shoes

pointed boot style shoes red chinese fabric
pointed boot style shoes red Chinese fabric
Jimmy Choo Courture Red Chinese style heeled shoes
Jimmy Choo Couture Red Chinese style heeled shoes


Chinese Fire Crackers

Chinese celebrations would not seem complete without a fair share of Firecrackers being let of. The purpose? to ward off evil negative forces.

A folklore legend has it, that a monster called Nián was driven away from attacking people by the sound of Firecrackers, and also the emblazoned colour red (of fire) the Chinese Symbol.

The name Firecracker in Chinese translates to “Exploding bamboo”, as early as 200bc a method of heating bamboo was devised that resulted in a crackled explosion. The process in later years was speeded up by the use of  Gunpowder!

Chinese New Year, Fire Crackers, Smoke
Chinese New Year, Fire Crackers, Smoke


Whilst other cultures are celebrating Christmas; Chinese traditions remember the Jade Emperor of Heaven on the 23rd of December. The Kitchen God reports to this Jade Emperor on this day to review the negative and positive actions of the people.

As an offering people set off firecrackers, with little bowls of offerings. Something similar can be seen in other traditions and cultures like Santa Claus or St Nicholas.

The offerings can vary from dry fruit nuts to burning incense. This will bless the family for a wealthy year. A paper effigy of the god is often burnt outside by the head male of the household. These fires can be fuelled by  alcohol, which presents a striking appearance, if not perhaps an unsafe one to emulate

Red balloon and firecrackers new year celebrations
Red balloon and firecrackers new year celebrations

Chinese Time to Pray and Reflection

Chinese People go temples like many other cultures for pray and reflection, The Chinese at this time of year Pray for the year ahead and hope the Chinese New Year brings good fortune and luck. The tradition of bringing offerings to honour dead family members is also a present reminder of the past.

London Temple
London Temple



Dragon Head China town London
Dragon Head China town London


Although this title was the name of the Last Bruce Lee Film in 1973 before his death in the same year. Dragons entering your front door for the new year is part of the traditions and theatrics on display during the London new year celebrations in Chinatown and all over the world.

Embellished dragon Head London China Town
Embellished dragon Head London China Town


The Dragon itself is a symbolic symbol of China that goes back centuries. The Hang dynasty 206 BC -220AD were using Dragons, in dance ceremonies that prayed for rain. Decorations don‘t stop at dancing dragons, they will decorate crockery and temples with dragon images. The Dragon stands for Wisdom, Wealth and power. The Tang dynasty starting  618 and the Song Dynasty 960 were using dragon dance during New Year celebrations. It’s thought to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck.

Ceremonial Dragon
Ceremonial Dragon


You will hear the beating sound of drums, the clashing of cymbals accompanying any pageant, and not forgetting the leading dragon, call at property doors, snaking through the streets of China Town.
They usually make the dragons out of vivid Cloth, bamboo, and other eye-catching craft materials. The joints are always in odd numbers and they raise the dragon body on stick poles high above. It will mysteriously bob and weave duck and dive as it tries to chase the leader in front carrying a ball on a raised stick.

Ball that the Dragon Chases during New year
The ball that the Dragon Chases during New year


To glimpse the dancing dragons in a busy street can be a tricky affair, sometimes even ending up into a chase. This can sometimes be termed the day of the dragon dance. At the end of the dance, the tail and the head may be ceremonially burnt and the body, well that will be packed away for another year.

Props used for Dragon ceremony
Props used for Dragon ceremony
Dragon in Action London chinese New Year
Dragon in Action London Chinese New Year

Chinese Food

The Chinese New year main evening meal is a very important time as the family gets together over traditional symbolic dishes.

London China Town catering staff serve the crowds
London China Town catering staff serve the crowds
Year of the Pig Chinese New Year Cake
Year of the Pig Chinese New Year Cake
window of food outlet pig artwork
window of food outlet pig artwork
Chinese Sweet foods at New Year
Chinese Sweet foods at New Year
Chinese Cake at New Year
Chinese Cake at New Year, featured animal


Why not Let the Chinese New Year begin with Lettuce!

Another thing you will see in London’s China town and in China is the hanging lettuce suspended by a string in doorways. But why? At first, you wonder if it’s a peace or meal offering for the dragon visiting. However, the first meal of the New year is a vegetarian with lettuce as a side dish.  Then the word for lettuce sounds the same as the word for making money another tie in with the good fortune motto.


Hunt the Lettuce with the Dragon
Hunt the Lettuce with the Dragon


Chinese New Year Explained xīnnián kuàilè Year of the Pig 1

Chinese Dumplings

Eating a dumpling on the last lunar day of the year is for good luck, fortune and happiness. Emulating the shape of gold or silver ingots which is the early form of currency in old China. There are many hidden meanings with dumplings, eat one at midnight and it may contain a hidden coin. Dumplings laid out in a row, signals particular attention to detail. Placing Dumplings in a ring will make your year ahead go round in circles, or so they say

Chinese Spring Rolls

Chinese spring rolls are also symbolic of the shape of gold bars.

Other Chinese Foods

Fish appears regularly for New year. The word sounds similar to abundance prosperity.

Peach longevity, fertility by the pomegranate, Orange cooked with Duck Love.

Tangerines & Oranges are a sign of luck, prosperity plenty profit. Given as gifts or used as decorations

Sticky Rice, Chicken family unity, cabbage prosperity, Noodle symbolising longevity, Duck happiness,

Chinese Cakes at New NY
Chinese Cakes
Chinese Cakes
Plenty Supply of Chinese food on offer in China Town, for Chinese New Year

Cake offering to the Kitchen God!

Called Nian Gao , niangao, nin gou

Cake Offering to the God Gold Nugget shape
Cake Offering to the God Gold Nugget shape


Offering cake to the Kitchen God is thought to bring more success, perform better at work or school. Chinese bakeries and shops have some interesting displays of New year cakes on show.

Chinese new yr cake
Chinese new yr cake

They make it with sweet rice flour also known as glutinous rice flour. It is gluten-free. Rice flour is not the same thing. They prepare a careful batter by sugar water and the flour which is steamed, so it sets like a cake usually in the shape of a loaf cake rectangle. Like a gold bar!

Sweet Rice balls symbolise family and unity and often eaten during the lantern lighting part of New Year celebrations. They can contain a hidden centre of sesame or red bean paste. It often calls them Glutinous rice balls however this just describes the sticky texture of the rice most would not be containing gluten as they are rice-based products. Always check labels but it is one food that many people with special diet considerations may sample. A clear soup may be on offer in the cold outdoor chill.

decorations on sale
decorations on sale

Cleaning and purity ritual

From around the last week of January till the start of a New year in February the rituals of doing a spring clean of the home to get rid of negative vibes from the last year and so making a clean slate to let the new year and its new luck and fortune. In Cantonese “Wash away the dirt”.  They think the cleaning ritual to symbolise clearing away all the bad luck of the last year, to make way for the new luck to come with the start of the fresh year.


After the family meal the young children, elderly and young adults will receive a red envelope containing money for good fortune. In China town, in the past, a bank manager dressed traditional emperor costume will hand out such envelopes with a small coin.

Chinese Lanterns

The end of the new year’s celebrations where the moon is full around the 15th day of the lunar month marks the end of the Chinese New year and the start of the lantern festival often the fireworks can be hosted around this time too even dragons that have been lit up from inside. This is all to honour family reunion, who gather to watch the full moon in illumination. Again this symbolises vitality.

Red chinese lanterns China Town London
Red Chinese lanterns China Town London


Gerrard Place China Town

Gerrard Place China Town

One nice thing for children is the animal mascot is usually on stalls all around China town, Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square. Each year the format changes. From an inflatable boar one year to a satin ox, to a beaded rat and a foam dog. Many charts are online to enable people to look up their Chinese animal birth sign. Just look up the year. Interestingly you can read up on the traits and characteristics and laugh at how often much of what is described fits characteristics of yourself or other people you know!

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