History of Chinese New Year: Starts Friday

Migration: Chinese New Year vs. Thanksgiving. Ref: Statista

Date of Chinese New Year

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.


The legend persists that Nian, a mythical beast who lived under the sea or in the mountains would terrorize children and farm animals. The name means “year” or “new year.” The beast was afraid of the color red, so red lanterns and fireworks were used to drive the beast away. Some attribute the popular Chinese lion dance to the Nian legend.

Chinese New Year Practices

Enjoying dim sum on Victoria Peak above Hong Kong
Lion Dance, Victoria Peak, Hong Kong


Lion Dance in Colorado Springs

Popularity of Chinese New Year

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 the 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.


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.

Chinese New Year Statistics

  • #1: largest human migration in the world
  • #1: largest usage of fireworks on the planet. China produces 90% of the world’s fireworks
  • 2 billion people celebrate this holiday
  • 1/4–1/5: world’s population celebrates this holiday
  • 7 days: The typical amount of time people get off for the holiday
  • 8 billion red envelopes will be passed out to children and single young relatives, some electronically
  • 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, the 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.

Writer and technologist. Author of fascinating articles about history, tech trends, and pop culture. billpetro.com @billpetro

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