The 15 Days of Lunar New Year & What They Mean

By Shirley Wong-Li, Patron Services Coordinator
January 3, 2022

NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: 1639792

Lunar New Year (農曆新年) marks the first day of the year in the lunar calendar. The celebration generally runs for 15 days, with each day having special meaning and traditions to honor. The days' significance and customs vary between regions and beliefs. Many of the meanings also come from legends and folktales passed down from generation to generation. Among the many myths, there is one about Nüwa (女媧), the goddess who created the world. It is believed that she spent the first six days creating animals, the seventh-day creating humans, and the eighth day creating grains. Hence each day of the new year is considered to be the birthday of her creations. Then some folktales talk about the God of Wealth (財神) bringing good fortunes to people, about the God of Kitchen (灶神) watching households, and many more. No matter how different the meanings and traditions are, Lunar New Year is when people spend time with families and friends to celebrate traditions and make wishes for a good year to come. 

In 2022, the Lunar Year, Year of Tiger, begins on February 1 and ends on January 21, 2023.  

The celebration starts on New Year’s Eve (除夕) when family members gather together for dinner (團年飯/團圓飯/年夜飯), to toast on the hard work and achievements throughout the year. In some regions, married people will give out red pockets (壓歲錢) to children to place under their pillows for good luck in the year to come. In some regions, family members stay awake all night (守歲), to say goodbye to the old year and to welcome the first day of the new year; it is also believed to bring blessings to the elderly members and increase their longevity. 

 

First Day (大年初一)

  • Many families serve all vegetarian dishes for their first meal as it is believed to help purify and cleanse out the body. Many other families have a big feast instead to celebrate the first day of the new year. 

  • It is a day to visit other family members, starting from the oldest and most senior members of the family. 

  • Some will visit temples hoping to be among the first group of people to pay respect to the gods and goddesses. 

  • Firecrackers, dragon and lion dances, and various celebration events are scheduled to bless everyone. The idea is that the more noise people make, the better to chase away the evil monster named Nian (年), who loves to scare people on the first day of the new year. 

  • Sweeping and cleaning are forbidden, as they could wipe away good luck. 

  • In the Nüwa legend, it is the Birthday of the Chicken. 

Second Day (大年初二)

  • (迎婿日) Married daughters bring her husband and children to visit her parents. 

  • Some will have a festive meal (開年飯), especially business people, to celebrate and wish for prosperity in the new year. 

  • In the Nüwa legend, it is the Birthday of the Dog. 

Third Day (大年初三) 

  • (赤口) There is a saying that it is easy for people to get into arguments on the third day of the new year. Hence, many people prefer not to visit others and just stay home to avoid getting into fights.  

  • There is a legend that says this the day the rats get married (老鼠娶新娘), so people should leave some rice in the kitchen and the balcony as gifts and people should go to sleep early as not to disturb the rats. In return, the rats would not disturb the family during the year.  

  • In the Nüwa legend, today is the Birthday of Pig.  

Fourth Day (大年初四) 

  • (接神日) It is the day to honor the God of Kitchen (灶神). A legend says that the God of Kitchen returns to Heaven about six to seven days before the new year, to report on the family conditions to the Jade Emperor. On the fourth day of the new year, the God of Kitchen will come back to the family to continue watching over them. People will provide food and wines to welcome the God of Kitchen and wish for an accident-free kitchen. 

  • In the Nüwa legend, today is the Birthday of Sheep.  

Fifth Day (大年初五) 

  • It is the day to honor the God of Wealth (財神), for good fortune to come. 

  • There is a saying that we should not leave the house for too long on the fifth day of the new year, just in case the God of Wealth pays a visit to the family. 

  • (破五) There is also a saying that it is the day to break the five bad lucks on intelligence (智窮), learning ability (學窮), literacy (文窮), life (命窮), and relationship (交窮). People will get up early today to clean up the house, and light up firecrackers, all in the wish to discard the five bad lucks away. 

  • Some will use the day to visit friends and classmates. 

  • In the Nüwa legend, today is the Birthday of Ox.

Sixth Day (大年初六) 

  • Some regions say the feast and celebration should end by now, and people should be ready to return to work.

  • Some will use the day to visit temples, relatives, and friends. 

  • A legend says the God of Bathrooms (厕所神) will pay a visit to check on the sanitary condition, so people would use this day to clean their bathrooms. 

  • Another legend says the day is to send away the Ghost of Poverty (穷鬼). People will usually throw away their ragged clothes and other dirty things to send him away. 

  • In the Nüwa legend, today is the Birthday of the Horse. 

Seventh Day (大年初七) 

  • Some regions celebrate the seventh day of the new year by mixing seven types of vegetables into a soup (七寶羮); some will eat raw fish (撈魚生) for blessing in their business; some will eat noodles for blessing in longevity; some will eat a type of congee that includes lean pork, liver and kidney called 及第粥 for blessings in academics. 

  • In the Nüwa legend, today is the Birthday of Man (人日), some regions will celebrate today as everyone’s birthday. 

Eighth Day (大年初八) 

  • Some say the festival activities for the new year should be completed by today. People should finish eating all the food left over from the new year. 

  • There is a legend saying the gods and goddess will visit our world (順星節); there will be events to pay respect to the gods and goddess. 

  • Some would release their pets back into the wild, such as fish and birds, to respect nature.

  • In the Nüwa legend, today is the creation of the five grains in our food system (谷日节). 

Ninth Day (大年初九) 

  • (天公誕) The day is the birthday of Jade Emperor (玉皇大帝), where he is said to be the God of all Heavens, there will be celebration activities throughout the day. 

  • Some bring fragrant flower candles to ponds and rivers to pray to the gods. 

Tenth Day (初十)

  • Today is the birthday of Earth Mother (地母) and there will be a festive meal and pantries and candies for celebration. 

  • The character for ten (十) has the same pronunciation as a rock (石). Hence some called today the Birthday of the Rock (石頭節).  

  • Some will serve a baked bread meal (饃餅), hoping the road will be opened and smooth for the year. 

Eleventh Day (十一)

  • (子婿日) Parents of a married daughter would invite the son-in-law to come home with their daughter and bring the children for a visit. 

  • Some will also make offerings to Zi Gu (紫姑), the guardian angel for women. 

Twelfth Day (十二) 

  • Today is the day to start preparing for the Lantern Festival, the celebration for the last day of the new year. 

  • There is an old song that talks about the tasks for each day of the Lantern Festival preparation, starting with today being the day to set up the structures to host the decorations for the lantern festival. 

  • Some designate today for the son-in-law to prepare and pay respect to the wife’s ancestors. 

Thirteenth Day (十三)

  • The old song continues to say today is the day to put up the lighting decorations for the Lantern Festival. 

  • Some say today is the day Emperor Guan (關帝爺) became one of the gods. 

  • In some regions, the day is also the day of lightbulbs. People would light up lights by the kitchen stove (点灶灯)

Fourteenth Day (十四)

  • The song continues to say today is the day to light up the decorations to start up the Lantern Festival. 

  • The new year celebration and traditions continue with visiting different temples and enjoying the various activities and shows such as the dragon and lion dances.

  • People will also make offerings to the Goddess of Linshui (臨水), who is believed to protect women from dying in childbirth. 

Fifteenth Day (十五)

  • (元宵節) Lantern Festival.  

  • A traditional solve-a-riddle game called 猜燈謎, where players need to solve the riddles written on the lanterns in order to get the lantern. 

  • It is one of the Chinese Valentine’s Day. It is said that back in the old days, when women were barely able to leave the house, Lantern Festival was a day they could go out to light up lanterns and to meet people. 

  • It marks the first full moon after the lunar new year started and marks the celebration’s completion. 

The significance and customs for each day vary between regions and beliefs. Not everyone honors the significance on the same day or in the same customs. There are also other beliefs that people follow during the new year period, such as wearing new clothes and new shoes, not getting haircuts, handing out red pockets (紅包).  Then, there are also activities people follow in the days leading up to the lunar new year, such as cleaning the house, paying respects to the ancestors, worshipping gods and goddesses. 

No matter how different people celebrate the lunar new year, we all share the same wishes—a great year to come for everyone. 

We wish everyone happiness and prosperity in the coming year! 

恭喜發財 (Gōng xǐ fā cái) - Wish you wealth and prosperity

身體健康 (Shēn tǐ jiàn kāng) - Wishing you good health

萬事如意 (Wàn shì rú yì) - May everything go well for you

Find book recommendations and programming information on our Lunar New Year  Celebration Page.