Chinese New Year 2020: all you need to know

Celebrations in Beijing may have been cancelled, but the rest of the world will ring in the Year of the Rat in style

Dragon celebrations
(Image credit: 2011 AFP)

Tomorrow marks the start of the Year of the Rat with Chinese New Year celebrations getting under way across the globe, while China battles to contain an outbreak of a deadly coronavirus.

In Beijing, officials announced this week that the city’s major new year events – which were expected to attract thousands of tourists – will be cancelled to control the spread of the virus, which has so far killed 26 people in the country.

More than 800 people have been confirmed to have the virus, with cases recorded in the US, Singapore, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau – as well as China, the Daily Mail says.

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But elsewhere, festivities look set to go ahead as planned, with carnivals, parades and food markets expected in countries across the world. To many Westerners, Chinese New Year is a colourful celebration marked by firecrackers and dancing dragons, but scratch the surface of what is one of China’s oldest festivals and you will find much more than food and festivities:

When is it?

Chinese New Year falls on Saturday 25 January 2020. Festivities occur not just in China, but also Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan, as well as in cities with Chinese communities across the world.

The largest events in the UK are usually concentrated on one weekend. This year, most major cities will mark the new year between Friday 24 and Sunday 26 January.

What is Chinese New Year?

New Year, also known as Spring Festival, is one of China’s oldest festivals. It marks the beginning of a new year and a new agricultural season and is considered a time for loved ones to reunite and take part in traditions designed to bring good fortune for the next 12 months.

The noise and colour come from one of the legends associated with the celebrations - that of the monster Nian, which would appear at the end of every year and attack people. In the story, villagers discovered that loud noise, bright lights and the colour red kept the beast at bay and so the seeds of Chinese New Year celebrations were sown.

In Chinese towns and Chinatowns alike, the streets are decorated with bright red lanterns. Chinese families gather for a reunion dinner on New Year’s Eve, and clean their houses to sweep away bad fortune on New Year’s Day.

In the past, children would be given red envelopes stuffed with “lucky money” and positive wishes on New Year’s Day, “but now some teens have red envelope apps, so their relatives can transfer cash digitally”, says The Sun.

Where is it celebrated?

The biggest festivals outside of mainland China are in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

The largest celebration outside Asia takes place in London’s Chinatown, where this year the main event will be a huge parade on 10 February, with musicians and performers accompanying the traditional dancing dragons and lions through the capital.

Street stalls and demonstrations will showcase the best of Chinese food, art and culture, while a stage in Trafalgar Square will welcome an array of dancers, singers and acrobats.

Which animal represents 2019?

Each year is linked to the Chinese zodiac – a list of 12 animals – with 2020 being the Year of the Rat. The other animals are the ox, horse, goat, rooster, pig, dog, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake and monkey.

The zodiac moves in a 12-year cycle, so those born in 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007 and 2019 are all classed as pigs.

Each year is also associated with one of five elements – metal, water, fire, earth and wood – which modify the traits of those born under them. This year’s elemental sign is earth.

People born under the “earth pig” are said to be “social butterflies with friends from all walks of life”, says, and have “a lot of support in both work and life”.

They are said to live fortunate lives and can find happiness easily. However, despite having a high chance of being successful in later life, they may not be the most romantic people and “might need to work on that”, the site adds.

The 12 signs are also divided into two categories – yin and yang – depending on whether the animals they represent have an odd or even number of claws, toes or hooves.

Where does the Zodiac originate?

The zodiac (which is derived from the Greek word meaning “circle of animals”) is believed to have originated in ancient Egypt and later adopted by the Babylonians, who are generally credited with the birth of astrology.

Early astrologers knew it took 12 lunar cycles for the sun to return to its original position. They then identified 12 constellations that they observed were linked to the progression of the seasons and assigned them names of animals and people.

Like the Chinese Zodiac, these 12 cycles were divided into four sub-sections, or quadrants, corresponding to the four elements: earth, fire, air and water.

The origins of the Chinese Zodiac can be traced back to the Jade Emperor, a primordial god from Taoist theology, who ordered the calendar to be made up of animals, telling them that the first 12 to arrive at his palace would be selected for inclusion in the calendar.

According to the legend, at the time the cat and the rat were good friends and promised to travel together. But the rat forgot to wake up his friend and started off alone.

On the road he met the tiger, horse, ox and other animals. They were much faster than the rat but he convinced the ox to carry him on his back in exchange for a song. The Ox arrived first but the rat sneaked in front of him and became the first lucky animal.

By the time the cat arrived, the selection was over “which is why the cat hates the rat and will always try to chase and kill him”, says The Sun.

Which famous people are born in the year of the pig?

Chinese horoscopes say that the year of your birth sign is actually the most unlucky, so famous people born in the year of pig, such as Hillary Clinton, Elton John and Stephen King, need to watch out - and avoid red and the numbers one, three and nine.

A host of famous historical figures were also “pigs”, including Carl Jung, Oliver Cromwell, Charles II of Spain, Alfred Hitchcock and Ronald Reagan.

Despite the ominous warnings, the stars can be misleading. In 2016, one leading Chinese astrologer forecast the year of the monkey would lead to more women being in power - specifically Clinton. And we all know how that turned out.

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