A Guide to the Days of the Chinese Lunar New Year (Meaning/Origin)

By Christina Kim - February 25, 2015


The Chinese Lunar New Year is a major festival and celebration among the Chinese communities worldwide.
It is a celebration of the New Spring, and just like the New Year on the 1st of January, this marks the beginning and the turn of the new calendar year according to the Lunar calculation following the complete cycle of the four seasons.

The auspicious season means more than just a new calendar year to the Chinese, for it is a season of new hope and beginnings which fuels a burst of positive energy into everyone as they believe in all things good and just like a reset button, they can cast away the bad from the previous year and just start afresh from the starting line.

As it is also the beginning of the brand New Year, it is logical that everyone wishes for the best to come in the new year and that everything would turn out in their favor.
The auspicious season is treated with much care that everyone would go to the extra mile to do what they can to prepare to welcome the coming year with grandeur and optimism.
It is this very weight of the festival in terms of its importance and how it is perceived in its effect on one's fortune for the entire year that gave birth to the law, guidelines and also the taboos of the do's and the don'ts during the season to ensure that everything is smooth and good, and to avoid anything bad.

In fact, even words uttered should not contain any negativity in them and should only contain the well-wishes.
Only the positive and those that bring joy and mean well are acceptable; otherwise would be gravely frowned upon.

Yes, the Chinese take their Lunar New Year celebration very seriously, owing their roots to centuries of cultural formation, practices which spurned various traditions and customs, shaping the Chinese culture to its very design today.
Taboos are taken very seriously, especially when it comes to matters concerning longevity, health, luck and fortune and it is an offense if one is to mock them in regards to the culture.

The Chinese Lunar New Year celebration spans for an entire month of the first month of the Lunar calendar; making it the beginning of the New Year, known as the Zhengyue (Main or Leading Month in Chinese), though the official celebrations last for half a month; or 15 days in exact.

Starting from the First Day of Spring, which is the New Year, the 15 Days of celebration marks the Chinese New Year season where everything is practised with respect to promote auspicious energy to usher in good fortune, luck and prosperity.

Of course the preparations start way before; at least a week, but most of the practices and pre-New Year preparations are more religious-related, pertaining to the Taoism culture, which I could probably share much later in a separate post, as I do remember some of them from the stories told to me by my maternal grandmother.

Anyway, the Chinese New Year is not just a day or two kind of event, though we are only entitled to two days of public holidays here (in Malaysia), but as mentioned, a duration of two weeks.

In case you have been wondering on the significance of each day, I have done a little compilation based on my knowledge (and of course, backed by more research from various sources) on these days and what they truly mean in terms of the celebration among the Chinese.

I hope this helps, and it would be good to really understand what we are celebrating, or the purpose of even observing the traditions put in place/told to us.

Eve of Chinese New Year 
The time for family reunion; this is the day designated for returning children who are away from home to reunite with their families (parents, grandparents) as they travel back to their ancestors' homes (usually the practice).
The Reunion Dinner is regarded with high respect and importance, and major lengths are gone to ensure that a wide variety of dishes are cooked or set on the table to welcome the returning family members.
(It is so important that it is compared to the Passover Meal - from the Bible)
It is also for everyone (some probably only meet once a year) to sit down and gather together as a family, to indulge in a good meal or a feast, while engaging in lively banter as they update each other on their lives throughout the year (or their time being away).
It is a practice to have excessive food, for it is a feast they are preparing for and also to serve the purpose of ensuring that there are leftovers so that there will always be extra in the household.
There will always be an excess of food, fortune, luck and everything good in abundance; which is the real symbol and meaning of having this excessive food.

The Reunion Dinner is celebrated with families, and typically all family members will stay in the same house after that, reuniting as a family to usher in the brand New Year together that night.
Some would also take a light stroll in the night markets (or known as the festive, or New Year's market and some may refer it as "Fa Si" (literally means flower market in Cantonese) which showcases items associated with the auspicious celebration on sale).
From fresh flowers for religious/ancestral worship to calligraphy paintings and jade, it is a common market/trend in countries like Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan.

The younger generation, or the children are to sleep later on this evening; stretching way past their bedtimes and it is recommended to wait past midnight before one can go to sleep.
It is a practice, well, advised or rather, encouraged to ensure longevity for their parents and the elders.
The longer one can stay awake adds to the longer life their parents/elders enjoy, and it is in a way a prayer/wish for their parents/elders.

Fireworks are set into the skies to usher in the New Year at midnight, as a sign of celebration and to send away the bad from the past year.
It is a practice from the origins of the Chinese New Year celebrations, where the folklore goes that loud sounds from the firecrackers and fireworks and also bright lights/fire are known to scare away the Nian monster which terrorizes the villages back then.
It is also for this very reason that all the houses are required to turn on all their lights, and ensure that their houses are brightly lit to ensure that their future is bright in the New Year and that the brightness welcomes in the good luck and fortune into the homes.

Altars are also set up to welcome and to worship the arrival of the God of Wealth, and there are rules to follow in the direction of setting up the altar and also attention is paid to the timing of the welcoming.

Day 1 : Ushering and the Welcoming of the brand New Year
The First Day of the New Spring sounds like the grandest day of all; and firecrackers are set off early in the morning or from the stroke of midnight to welcome the New Year.
Colors of red dominate the colors of clothing usually worn on the first day, or bright colors.
Red is the auspicious color as like the firecrackers, the color was also believed to cast away the evil spirits and also bring good fortune.
It is an auspicious color and has been fondly linked to the Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations due to the bright shade of the color.

The younger generation would greet the elders in the morning, uttering wishes of good fortune, health and joy.
Everything said must be of favorable and promising to the ears.
Everyone is happy and will be in smiles or laughter.
Crying or unhappiness is not a sight to be seen in any Chinese home during this season, let alone on the First Day of the New Spring.

Visiting on the First Day are often among close family members, and the focus is mostly on the younger ones paying homage to their elder family members.
It is not common to visit friends or distant relatives on the first day, and it is all a rather homely affair.
It can be a rather quiet day as well for most, perhaps to continue from the feast from the day before.

The taboos on the First Day are to be noted with care:-
1. No washing of hair
- One could wash away the luck of the New Year

2. No usage of sharp utensils (knives, scissors, needles, etc)
- One could sever the ties with their loved ones
**Food which are consumed on the First Day are usually leftovers from the Reunion Dinner - again, another reason why the Reunion Dinner is cooked in a large and excessive scale**

3. No cleaning with the broom, mop (particularly the broom)
- One could sweep away all the good luck and fortune which came in with the brand New Year.

4. No dark colors (especially Black) is encouraged
- Sombre colors are associated with mourning and are traditionally not encouraged. Red and other bright colors are favored instead

5. Negative words (death, curse) are prohibited altogether

For some, the First Day of Chinese New Year is also a day to abstain from meat and it is common for most to observe a vegetarian day. It is believed that the vegetarian fast is to wish for their parents' good health and longevity, and it is recommended for a half-day fast for this purpose for the younger generation.

Day 2: The Beginning of the Year/Son-in-Law Day/Visiting Day
This is the day known as "Hoi Nin/Kai Nian" (literally translates to the Opening or the Beginning of the Year in Cantonese/Mandarin).
It is the day when the year is considered officially "in" and businesses and routines can start as usual.
Some of the businessmen may open their shops for a while in the morning, as a symbol that their businesses started on the 2nd day before they close and return to resume their celebrations/holidays with their families.
They also continue to give offerings to the God of Wealth on this day, and is especially an important practice in China to ensure good business and a smooth fortune throughout the year.

This is also the day when married daughters return with their husbands and children to their maiden homes for their reunion with their families; thus giving the day the name of the Son-in-Law Day.

Day 3: The Mice Wedding Day and the Red Dog Day (Day to Stay at Home)
A day to stay at home for the above two reasons; the wedding day of the mice and the bad omen from the other.

The Mice Wedding Day originate from a popular folk tale passed down for generations; where a happy family of mice loved their daughter so much that they wanted to marry her off to a good spouse. The parents sought suitors such as the Sun, Cloud, Wind, and the Wall whom they thought were the greatest beings, only to realize in the end, they were just as great as the ones they sought and finally settled to marry their mice daughter to another mice.
The wedding was a lavish affair, considering the love the parents have for their daughter.

It is for this happy occasion that people stay away from going out on the streets to avoid interrupting this wedding and in some parts in China, some of the folks even toss out bread crumbs and laid rice on the road as a way to cheer the wedding.
This folklore is so popular that it is passed down to the children until today.

It is probably also a nice story to keep the children at bay and to make everyone stay at home as the day is also known as the Red Dog Day (Chi Kou Ri - translates to The Day of the Red Mouth).
Red Mouth is associated with a bad omen; for it brings quarrels, fights and arguments in exchange of unpleasant words.
The Red Dog is also known as the God of the Blazing Wrath, as believed by the Chinese.
It is not advisable to go out on this day to avoid incurring the wrath or get entangled in disputes due to this aura believed to be present in the air.

Day 4: Day of the Goat/Return of the Kitchen God/Day of Deities Worship
An auspicious day, the fourth day of the Lunar New Year is known as Yang Ri (Day of the Goat) and is considered a good day as the goat is a symbol of good luck according to the Chinese beliefs.

It is also the day to welcome the return of the Kitchen God/God of Stove from Heaven (he was sent to report back to the Jade Emperor in Heaven on the 24th Day in the 12th month of the Lunar calendar, as part of the past year's observations and reporting. Yes, they have an organized reporting system in Heaven too, according to their beliefs :-)
The 12th month is the end of the year, and the last month of the Lunar calendar)
The welcoming of the Kitchen God, fruits amongst other food are prepared and at the same time, to welcome the other deities, including the God of Fortune/Wealth.

The 4th Day is also the day when the house can finally be cleaned and trash can finally be taken out and chores return to normal.
This is also the last day for businesses to be closed, and all will resume back to normal by the next morning.

Day 5: Festival of Po Wu/Birthday of the God of Fortune/Resume of Business Day
This is the day when all the taboos can be broken; as the name Po Wu suggests (Po means break in Chinese, Wu means stuffs/things).
It is in a way where routines return to normal and businesses all resume as well.

It is also the Birthday of the God of Fortune and it is again a day for feasting.
Firecrackers are set off to capture the attention of the God of Fortune and that they will be bestowed good fortune and luck for the entire year.

The practice of consuming dumplings is common in the Northern part of China and also in Taiwan, as a way of celebrating the God of Fortune's birthday, as the dumpling is shaped like a gold ingot used back then in the olden days in China and is said to be a symbol of fortune.

Day 6: Clear-Water Master Day/ God of Pig Day/ Sending away the Ghost of Poverty Day
The master mentioned was a monk who during days of his living helped to pray for rain to save the people suffering from drought, at the same time also urged people to plant more trees.
He also called for the building of bridges during his time.
His name was not clearly known, but as he resided at a place known as the Clear-Water Rock Mountain which gave him his name and he became known as the Clear-Water Master Day.

The God of Pig Day is associated with the festival of observing the Clear-Water Master Day where at his temple, they call for a competition of the pigs and that the heaviest pig would be the winner.
This is a major festival in Taiwan, and streets will be lined with performances and also opera and dances.

The 6th Day is also known as Ma Ri; or the Day of the Horse and is also a day to send away the unfavorable Ghost of Poverty.  Ways of sending are unique among the different regions and cultures in various parts in China.
Legend has it that the Ghost of Poverty is one of Zhuan Xu's sons (Zhuang Xu is one of rulers in the Three Emperors and Five Sovereigns in China).
He was often pictured as weak in health, frail and short in stature, and he wears ragged clothes and eats porridge. He would rip away new clothes presented to him before wearing it and as time goes by, he became known as the Ghost of Poverty.

The method to send away this Ghost of Poverty is by throwing away old clothes along with other unwanted or dirty stuffs and trash from homes to ensure that there is no poverty for the family.
Some would even light candles on the road as a way to lighten up the road for the Ghost of Poverty to be on his way, away from their homes.

In Penang (Malaysia), the 6th Day is also dedicated to the worship of the Snake God and the locals would pay homage to the deity in the famous Snake temple (one and only in Southeast Asia), believed to have appeared and brought along all the snakes magically on this day which formed the beginnings of the temple.

Day 7: The Day of All Human Beings 
According to legend, the Goddess Nuwa is the one who created all beings in the beginning.
Day 1: Chicken
Day 2: Dog
Day 3: Sheep/Goat
Day 4: Pig
Day 5: Ox
Day 6: Horse
Day 7: Human

All human beings are believed to be created on this day, thus everyone shares a common birth day according to the legend, leading to this day being known as the Day of Human/All Human Beings (Ren Ri/Yan Yat).

Longevity noodles or birthday auspicious food are consumed on this day, to celebrate everyone's birthday. In China, the Qi Bao Geng (where 7 types of vegetables are mixed together to form a thick soup) is consumed, which is believed to be able to repel ill health and also evil spirits.

Noodles are believed to signify longevity and are commonly consumed on this day.
Fish porridge, or rather, catfish porridge is also common in some cultures, for catfish are believed to have strong will of living and is harder to kill - a symbol of determination and strength/long life.

In Malaysia and Singapore, Lou Sang is an interesting dish created which is a combination of colorful vegetables mixed and tossed together with a sweet plum sauce.
Family members and friends would gather around the plate and toss these as high as possible in the air, while uttering words of well wishes and prosperity all the way.
It is a symbol of the mold when human beings were created and the tossing in the air is to symbolize the great heights of fortune one can achieve in the year/life.

Day 8: The Day of Completion/ Birthday of the Millet/The Birthday of Yen Lo King
This is the day where most people return to work after the long holidays taken for the Chinese New Year.
It is also the day where everything resumes to normal; just like the usual days.
Cakes or poultry/meat prepared for the Lunar New Year celebrations should also be finished by today, thus giving it the name of the completion.

The millet, being one of the important crops in the agriculture sector in China is also celebrated and observed on this day and while it is no longer of significance compared to the past, the tradition still continues to this very day.
It is a day for parents to cultivate and teach their children about the habits of appreciating food and the importance of food in their daily lives.
Parents can bring their children to villages or farms to observe the process of planting and harvesting the crops, and even encourage them to partake in the activity.
The purpose is for them to understand the pains and challenges in cultivating the crops in order for them to cherish food and not let food go to waste.

This is also the day believed to be the birthday of the Yen Lo King (5th King in the 5th Palace, in Hell, as legend says).
According to legend , the Yen Lo King was initially in charge of the first palace and he sent most of people who died of injustice back to the human world to clear themselves of their wrong accusations; which was against the law of nature which subjected to his demotion to the 5th palace after that.

Some of the preparations for the birthday of the Jade Emperor begin throughout the day, particularly in Malaysia, to celebrate the Birthday of the Supreme Ruler of Heaven; the Jade Emperor at the stroke of midnight on the 9th Day of the Chinese Lunar New Year.

Day 9: The Birthday of the Jade Emperor, Ruler of Heaven
Jade Emperor is believed to be the Supreme Ruler in Heaven and is worshipped by most of the believers.
The celebrations and setting up of the altars along with the offerings start from the night of the 8th Day and last until midnight.
Various types of food of significance are prepared for this Supreme Deity, and paper offerings of gold (money) are burnt to honor the Ruler of Heaven.

Legend has it that the Hokkien/Fujian Clan were at war with the Teochew Chan and had to seek refuge in the sugar cane plantation. It was considered to be a miracle as sugar canes are usually distant from each other and could be easily discovered by their enemies.
However, the Hokkien/Fujian were unharmed and could finally come out of their hiding on the 9th Day which coincided with the Birthday of the Jade Emperor.
Believing that it was the Deity's power which watched over them, this is particularly an even more significant celebration for the Hokkien/Fujian to give thanks and show their appreciation, including an offering of sugar canes as well.

Day 10:  Eating Day/Birthday of the God of Stone
Eating Day is simply to continue to finish the sumptuous food from the feast prepared to celebrate the Birthday of the Jade Emperor the day before.

The story behind the Birthday of the God of Stone is a more interesting one; and it is also known as Shi Bu Dong in China (meaning: No rock shall move).
On this day, as the name suggests, no rocks are allowed to be moved or used in any construction, and not even mortar can be used, as a way to pay respect and to avoid bad things from happening to their homes or crops.

Day 11: The Breaking Day/Father-in-Law to Entertain Son-in-Law
There is actually no significant celebration on this day, and is more of a day for families to invite their daughters and son-in-laws home to enjoy together the feast leftover from the 8th Day.

Other types of observations are the Pao Long Jie(Dragon Dance Festival) in Binyang County, Guangxi Province.
Also the 11th Day is associated with the Purple Lady (Zi Gu), who was once a rich man's concubine and is a symbol of oppressed ladies in the feudal times. She is regarded as the guardian for weak females.

Day 12:  Preparation for the Lantern Festival/Diarrhea Day
With three days away from the finale of the Lunar New Year celebrations, preparations begin on this day in welcoming the 15th day, also known as the Lantern Festival.

Another interesting part is that it is also known for the prediction that people may face stomach problems after over indulgence in food for the past 11 days.

Day 13: Lantern Appreciation Day/Death Anniversary of Guan Yu (Lord of War)
There is a different view on this day between the northern versus the southern part of China where the north believe it to be inauspicious.
Story has it that there was a man, Mr Yang who lost his sons (he had 13 of them) in a year; one after another and his eldest, died on the 13th Day of the New Year itself.
For the northern folks, this is a bad day and all auspicious celebrations are avoided on this day; including marriages.

For the south, this is a day to enjoy and appreciate the different types of lanterns in the temple.
There are even poem competitions and bidding of the beautiful lanterns on display.

This is also the day to commemorate the legendary and respectable Lord/General Guan Yu, a famous general who was loyal to his brothers in the Three Kingdoms. His loyalty, honesty and virtues were well honored that he was treated as the deity for righteousness and also in courage.
Most Chinese would worship General/Deity Guan Yu in businesses and also in commercial, to avoid frauds for General Guan Yu detests liars and trickery.
He was also treated as the God of Wealth, and was believed to be able to bring good fortune and luck.

Day 14: Lantern Decoration Day
This is the day/eve of the last day of the Chinese Lunar New Year celebration; which is the Lantern festival and preparations are made to decorate the lanterns before the day itself.

Day 15: Lantern Festival/Chinese Valentine's Day/Chap Goh Meh/Finale of the Chinese Lunar New Year Season
The last day of the Chinese Lunar New year celebration, the 15th day marks the finale of the festive season.
Also known as Yuan Xiao Jie or Shang Yuan Jie.

In ancient China, this is a day full of parades and merry celebrations on the streets and most of the people will be out to celebrate with the crowds.
Lanterns are hung and everyone will be out to appreciate the beautiful lanterns; there are lantern competitions and even riddles or poems would be organized as a way to acquaint young single men and women.
It is a rather romantic festival, as young unmarried women were not allowed to go out in ancient times and are only allowed to be out on this day; one of the rare days.
This will also be an opportunity for these young single men and women to meet in the festivals; and scholars would woo the hearts of the women who captured their attention by showcasing their literary skills in the riddle/poem competitions.

As it is also the final day of the Lunar New year, family reunions are also celebrated and on this day, round rice glutinous balls (tang yuan) cooked in sweet soup are consumed.
It is a symbol of reunion and completion due to its round shape.

Chap Goh Meh is a Hokkien term which means the 15th night,
In Malaysia, or in Penang, an island in the northern region, the last day would be celebrated not only with the tang yuan, but also with a special local dessert soup known as Bubor Cha Cha.
It is a dessert cooked with sticky flour, sweet potatoes, yam in a fragrant coconut milk soup; a specialty dessert which originated from the Peranakan; an assimilated cultural clan resulting from the mixed marriages.

The Penangites also created a tradition in their own way of celebrating the Chinese Valentine's Day by casting mandarin oranges over the bridges (those they could not finish). This is done by the unmarried women and the single men looking out for their potential life partners would be waiting at the bottom of the bridges to catch those tossed by the ladies, in the ancient times.
In modern days, some would even write their mobile numbers to keep in touch with each other.
Some creative businessmen would even see this as an opportunity to collect the mandarin oranges and resell to those who arrive at the bridges and would like to throw the oranges to join in the fun.

This completes my very own compilation of the guide to the 15 Days, and I believe there are still many more versions out there, though this is one of the most common.

Do let me know if you know of any others, I would love to hear of them!

Hope this can be a good guide to help to understand the different origins, stories, folklores and also cultural practices among the Chinese in the various regions all around the world.

Have an enjoyable Chinese New Year celebrations and continue with the feast! :-)

Wikipedia: Chinese New Year
China Travel
Lotus Travel 

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