Chinese New Year 2015: 6 things you need to know about the Year of the Goat (or Sheep)

Everything you need to know about yang, pillows and primroses

When is it?

Tomorrow marks Chinese New Year, the longest and most important holiday in the Chinese calendar.

The world’s largest annual human migration is now well underway as 2.8 billion trips are made across China in what is known as chun yun, when students, migrant workers and office employees living away from home will make the journey back to celebrate with their families.

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A woman stands under paper lanterns, celebrating the Chinese New Year at Ditan Park in Beijing (Reuters)

It is China’s most important holiday

Chinese New Year is the longest national holiday in China, spanning a total of fifteen days, and New Year’s Day is the most important date in the Chinese calendar.

The first three days of the new year are a statutory holiday but usually most people will have the time from New Year’s Eve to the sixth day of the new year off from work.

Although China has used the Gregorian calendar since 1912, Chinese New Year is based on the ancient Chinese lunar calendar, and it falls on the second new moon after winter solstice - somewhere between 21 January and 19 February, meaning it changes from year to year.

It is pronounced “Gong Xi Fa Cai” in Mandarin and “Gong Hey Fat Choy” in Cantonese, although both are written the same way.

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Fireworks explode at the River Hongbao Lunar New Year Celebrations along Marina Bay in Singapore (Reuters)

Roughly a sixth of the world will celebrate it

As well as being celebrated in China itself, celebrations occur in Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and all countries where there are significant Chinese populations.

London and San Fransisco both claim to host the largest celebrations outside of Asia, and smaller celebrations occur in most Western countries. This year London’s celebrations will take place on 22 February from 10am to 6pm in Trafalgar Square and include a parade  through the West End.

Wish people a happy new year by saying “Xin Nian Kuai Le” in Mandarin or “San Nin Faai Lok” in Cantonese.

chinese_new_year_2.jpgGoat or sheep?

2015 is the year of the goat, but you may see it referred to as the “Year of the Sheep” too.

The confusion stems from the Chinese character “yang”, which can translate in colloquial Chinese as either sheep or goat.

Those born in 1919, 1931, 1943, 1967, 1979, 1991 or 2003 are goats, who can count their lucky colours as brown, red and purple.

Their characters are supposedly kind and peaceable, while their best months are supposedly August and November and their lucky flowers are primroses and carnations.

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Children receive money and place them under the pillow before going to sleep, to bring happiness and good fortune (The Royal Mint)

Children will sleep with money under their pillow

Children will be given red envelopes filled with money to bring happiness and good fortune.

The envelopes themselves are good luck, as well as the contents, and some children will sleep with their envelopes under their pillow for up to seven days to increase their luck.

A common misconception is that everyone receives money from everyone else as part of Chinese New Year celebrations.

In fact, only people who are not married receive the red packets of money (hong bak) and only those who are married give them out.

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Filipino dancers perform a Dragon Dance on the eve of the Chinese New Year (EPA)

How is it celebrated?

Dinners, parades, dragon dances, reunions and gift exchanges are all part of Chinese New Year celebrations.

Red clothing and elements are essential for Chinese New Year, as the mythical monster at the centre of the New Year, Nian, was supposedly scared of the colour red and fireworks, which have also become a key part of New Year celebrations.

Cleaning the house on the twentieth day of the second lunar month before the New Year, and subsequent house decorating, are both major rituals in the run up to New Year.

Each day has its own celebration: while on Day 2 it is traditional to visit friends and relatives, on Day 3 people tend to stay at home as it is not seen as auspicious to socialise.

The final day, Day 15, sees the Lantern Festival, where red Chinese lanterns are released into the sky.

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