History of Chinese New Year

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Lion Dance


Because the Chinese lunisolar calendar — which dates back to the Shang Dynasty in the 14th century B.C. — is different from the western Gregorian calendar, this festival begins with the New Moon, typically the second new moon after the Winter Solstice and can occur on dates between January 21 and February 20. The lunar cycle is approximately 29.5 days so to synchronize with the solar calendar the Chinese insert an interstitial month seven years out of a 19-year cycle.


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Businesses in China typically take the first week of Spring Festival off as a public holiday, and people travel to visit friends and family to celebrate the New Year. Across Asia, especially those countries with large Chinese populations or those influenced by the culture of the Han Dynasty — including Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam — Chinese New year is important, and companies will take at least a day or two off.


With the spread of Chinese immigration, the festival was celebrated in other parts of the world, especially in cities that developed Chinatowns. The largest celebration outside of Asia is in San Francisco. The Gold Rush of 1849 brought Chinese to work the mines and the railroads. As Chinese families were away from their families, their local community serviced as the basis for their celebration, dating as far back as the 1860s including a parade in San Francisco.

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I’ve worked for large Silicon Valley companies that employ many Chinese that celebrate Chinese New Year with a Chinese meal. One can appreciate that there are large Chinese immigrant populations along the Pacific Coast of America. But here in Colorado, it was the building of the Transcontinental Roadroad system that brought Chinese workers in 1865 to build the Central Pacific Railroad across to Nevada and California. Following the Burlingame Treaty of 1868, giving China favored nation status, the number of Chinese immigrants grew to over 11,000 in 1868 and almost 15,000 in 1869. The Central Pacific employed over 12,000 Chinese laborers, more than 90% of its workforce. Consequently, there was a sizable Chinese population in the American West. We have Chinese New Year celebrations in the major Colorado cities of Denver, Boulder, and Colorado Springs.


  • #1: largest human migration in the world
  • 1/5: world’s population celebrates this holiday
  • 7 days: The typical amount of time people get off for the holiday
  • 3.6 billion: Journeys are made as people return to their homes
  • 19 billion: texts sent on the holiday in 2009, a world record
  • 800 million: viewers of the Spring Festival Eve TV gala, most-watched entertainment show in the world. Since 1983, it has been the family ritual to watch this cultural variety show, like the Ed Sullivan Show was in the US in the 1960s.

Silicon Valley Tech Exec: Cloud, Data Storage, Automation. Author of fascinating articles about history, tech trends, andpop culture. Blog: http://billpetro.com

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