This month, millions of families are getting ready for Spring Festival in China. This is the time of year for fireworks, food, and red, red, red, everywhere! Share the excitement with your students with these ten fun facts about the Year of the Rat and Chinese New Year. 

Chinese New Year Family Celebration.
Red envelopes full of money are the most popular gift during Spring Festival celebrations. Photo courtesy © Famveldman | Dreamstime.com

  1. The traditional phrase to wish people a happy new year doesn’t actually mean “Happy New Year.” A common greeting during Spring Festival in China is “Gong xi fa cai.” This phrase is a wish for prosperity and good fortune in the coming year. To say “Happy New Year” in Chinese, you can say “Xin nian kuai le.” 
  2. To make lots of money in the new year, you need to win the jiaozi eating competition. Okay, not really. But jiaozi, or dumplings, are considered a lucky food to eat on Chinese New Year’s Eve because they look like little money bags. The more you eat, the more money you will have in the new year. If you love dumplings like I do, then you’re bound to be rich. 
  3. In case you’re still hungry, there’s still a lot of lucky foods you could eat. Foods that are said to bring good luck include noodles, fish, spring rolls, and more. Different regions have different foods that they consider auspicious. Many foods are considered lucky either because of the shape or because its name sounds like other words with positive connotations like “extra,” “early,” “noble,” and others. 
  4. Gift-giving is easy during Spring Festival. While you may agonize over the perfect present and spend hours wrapping boxes during the holidays, the Chinese have an elegant solution for this situation. Give everyone the same thing! Red envelope gifts with money inside are given to children, older family members, and sometimes friends.
  5. The Year of the Rat isn’t as bad as it sounds. While many of us may picture a sewer rat eating from discarded food, the rat has a better reputation in the Chinese New Year Zodiac. Rats are associated with abundance, wealth, and cleverness. It is thought that people born in the year of the rat make good businessmen. On the other side, they can also be quite skittish when it comes to love!
  6. Speaking of the rat, did you know that it is the first in order of all the animals listed on the Chinese New Year Zodiac? The myth states that the rat used its wits to get out ahead. The Jade Emperor said the first one across the finish line would be the first listed numerically. Being clever, the rat asked the strong ox for a ride. When they got to the finish line, the rat simply jumped in front of the ox to secure first place!
  7. You shouldn’t wear red unless it’s your year of the zodiac. All my life, my mother has been telling me to wear red on Chinese New Year because it’s good luck. Little did I know that I was doing it all wrong! For people who were born in the Year of the Rat, it’s your 本命年(Běnmìngnián), or your zodiac year of birth. Superstition says that it will be an inauspicious year for you, so you should wear red clothing to ward off any bad luck that may try to follow you into the new year. So, if it’s not your zodiac year of birth, there’s no reason to worry about wearing red. (Though many people choose to wear red even if it’s not their zodiac year of birth)
  8. Spring Festival in China is an important time for family. A lot of Chinese traditional celebrations are center around family, but the New Year is the most important one. It is the biggest travel period in the world and has been called a great human migration in past years. Family is so central to the holiday that newspapers covered a story in 2014 of a mother who rented out a full-page ad asking her son to come home.
  9. Chinese New Year isn’t just for China. In fact, many places such as Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines celebrate Spring Festival too. Cities with large Chinese immigrant populations will have big celebrations as well. Be sure to check your nearest major city for a Chinatown that is sure to be serving up the fun. 
  10. Sad that Chinese New Year will be over too fast? Don’t worry, at the end of the 15-day celebration, many celebrate the Lantern Festival. It’s a time for families to go outside and spend time together to watch lion dances, lantern displays, and other performances. 

Learn more about Spring Festival in China and the Lunar New Year by checking out these other articles!:
How to Say “Happy New Year” in Chinese and other Popular Lunar New Year Greetings
Chinese New Year: History, Traditions & Superstitions
When is Chinese New Year? How is it Celebrated?

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Katy Drew
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Katy Drew

This is so informative so that someone like myself, an ALO7 tutor, can understand this holiday and be able to ask appropriate questions to students. Thank you!

Teacher Jeris
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Teacher Jeris

Another fantastic article, Delanie! I always learn something new to share with my students!

Chloe Dignam
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Chloe Dignam

This is super helpful! I love learning more about my students culture and special holidays. Great article as usual Delanie 🙂 dà jí dà lì to you!

Ayla Corcoran-Royan
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Ayla Corcoran-Royan

Very informative! I think understanding more about this holiday is valuable when it comes to discussing it with some of my students. I especially thought it was interesting about wearing red only on your zodiac year of birth. Not something I would have ever thought of.

Wonderful article!

Tanya Pittman
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Tanya Pittman

I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about Chinese New Year! I gave my kids red packets for CNY !

Elaine Ventura
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Elaine Ventura

Here in Peru, yellow is the lucky color. Lots of people buy yellow underwear for New Year’s. We also eat 12 grapes at midnight for good luck – one grape for each month of the coming year. There are lots of other traditions and superstitions that are dying out. Burning a stuffed dummy has become illegal because of the smoke pollution it causes, but that signals leaving behind the bad luck of the past year. This year we saw someone running around that block with a suitcase. You do that if you are hoping to travel in the coming year.… Read more »

Emma
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Emma

I have always wanted to celebrate Chinese New Year in New York, they also have a big festival.

Dalissa McEwen

Those are interesting traditions! I think I’d like to see a few people running around the block with their suitcases… In fact, I’d be one of them.

Elise Hale
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Elise Hale

Thank you for this interesting article. I will be using this with my students.