Chinese New Year Dates


Chinese Culture > Chinese New Year > Chinese New Year Dates

by: Kah Joon Liow

I'm sure you’ve noticed that Chinese New Year falls on a different day each year. Why is this so? I asked myself the same question and finally I figured it out. Spring begins (立春, lìchūn) each year around Feb 4th (in the Western calendar).

The first day of Chinese New Year starts on the New Moon closest to spring. (That’s why Chinese New Year Date is called the Spring Festival.) And ends on the Full Moon 15 days later with the Lantern Festival. The first day of Chinese New Year is always between Jan 21st and Feb 21st. But why are Chinese New Year dates so “unpredictable”? To answer this question, one has to look at how a month in the Chinese calendar or lunar calendar is calculated.

A Chinese month yue4 月 which means “moon” is a REAL moon. Each lunar month starts on the day of the new moon. This is the day the moon is closest to the sun and not visible at all. Does it mean that one has to look at the sky each time to tell the new moon? Fortunately, the answer is “no”. Otherwise there'll be a lot of stiff necks!

Because the new moon occurs with enough regularity to devise a calendar based on its phases. (Full moon in the middle of the month. Moon wanes at the end of the month). On average, each lunar month is 29.5 days. (Sometimes the months are 29 days and other times they are 30 days.) But multiplying 29.5 days by 12 months gives 354 days. Which is 11 days short of 365 1/4 days, the cycle of the four seasons. Or 11 days "faster" if you like. So, how does the Chinese calendar “wait” for the natural world to catch up?By adding an extra month to make a “thirteen-month year”.

Well, not every year but every few years. How often? It turns out seven times every nineteen years. In this way, the Chinese calendar year keeps in step with the real world. Each year in the Chinese Calendar is also named after one of 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac. Last Chinese New year, 2005 was the year of the rooster and this Chinese New Year, 2006 the year of the dog.


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