Chinese New Year: The different days of the new year and what each of them mean

  • Although the festival officially lasts only three days on the calendar, it is actually celebrated for around two weeks
  • Do you know there is a specific day for cleaning, and that everyone shares a birthday during Lunar New Year?
Sue Ng |

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Here’s what you should keep in mind for celebrating the Year of the Tiger. Photo: Shutterstock

Sun Nin Fai Lok! This year, we are welcoming the Year of the Tiger on February 1. Not only does the Chinese New Year mark the perfect time to enjoy a feast with your loved ones, but it is also a chance to clear out old things and welcome the good luck of the year.

While the festival officially lasts for only three on our calendar, it is actually celebrated for up to 15 days. Each day carries a special meaning and has its list of things you should and should not do.

Did you know that there is a specific day for cleaning your house? And one day marks everyone’s birthday? Here is what each day means, running from New Year’s Eve on January 30 to the seventh day of the new year on February 7, and things you should make sure to do on each of these days.

The ultimate guide to how to address your relatives on Lunar New Year

January 30

年廿八 (nin4 jaa6 baat3) nin-ya-bat: The 28th day of the 12th month of the Lunar calendar
Custom of the day: House cleaning

Falling on January 30 this year, the 28th day of the calendar was chosen as a spring cleaning day because the number “28” sounds similar to the phrase “easy to be rich” in Cantonese. It is believed that the God of Wealth will visit during Chinese New Year, but that it does not enter dirty homes. Therefore, there is a Cantonese saying that goes, “On the 28th, wash away the dirtiness” to remind people to clean and welcome wealth. Some even take a pomelo-leaf shower to wash away the dirt and bad luck of the past year.

Cleaning as a family makes it go by faster. Photo: Shutterstock

January 31

年廿九 (nin4 jaa6 gau2) nin-ya-gau: The 29th day of the 12th month of the Lunar calendar
Custom of the day: Put up red decorations

After washing away the bad luck of the preceding year, the following day is the best time to put Fai Chun - traditional decorations - in the doorways to welcome good luck and prosperity. In Chinese, Fai Chun symbolises “welcoming the spring and receiving blessings”, and the four-character phrases written on them often express hope and happiness for the coming year.

年三十 (nin4 saam1 sap6) nin-saam-sup: Lunar New Year’s Eve/ the 30th of the year
Custom of the day: Have a reunion dinner

The lunar calendar is different from the Western calendar, and it only has 30 days in its 12 months. Therefore, New Year’s Eve lands on the 29th or 30th of the month, depending on the cycle of the moon.

This year, there is no 30th day in the first month of the Chinese calendar, so locals will celebrate New Year’s Eve on the 29th day of the Lunar calendar. Traditionally, families will gather together and enjoy a reunion dinner with auspicious dishes such as fish, fat choy, and dumplings.

What are your favourite dishes to eat on Chinese New Year? Photo: Shutterstock

February 1

年初一 (nin4 co1 jat1) nin-chor-yat: Chinese New Year’s Day
Custom of the day: Wear new clothes and don’t wash your hair

This year, Lunar New Year begins on February 1. On this day, people wear new clothes from head to toe - usually in red or bright colors- and visit their relatives. The new clothes symbolise a new start and good luck in the New Year.

Although New Year’s day is a festive day, there are several taboos that you need to pay attention to. For example, you can’t wash your hair, as the word “hair” in Cantonese sounds the same as “prospect”. Therefore, locals believe that washing your hair means you are washing your prosperity away. Other taboos include cutting your nails, sweeping the floor, and swearing or saying words with negative connotations.

What to do with your red packet money

February 2

年初二 (nin4 co1 ji6) nin-chor-yee: The second day of the Chinese New Year
Custom of the day: Married women visit their parents’ home

It is believed that if married daughters visit their parents on the first, fourth, or fifth days of the Chinese New Year, they will bring bad luck upon their families. Therefore, the married couple usually visits the wife’s parents’ home on the second day of the new year. Usually, they will bring an even number of gifts, as an odd number is considered ominous.

February 3

年初三 (nin4 co1 saam1) nin-chor-saam: The third day of the Chinese New Year
Custom of the day: Stay at home

The third day of the Chinese New Year is considered an ominous day, as people in ancient times believed that it would be easy to misspeak or offend others on the day. Therefore, it is recommended not to visit relatives or invite people to your home, to avoid getting into trouble or quarrelling.

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February 4

年初四 (nin4 co1 sei3) nin-chor-si: The fourth day of the Chinese New Year
Custom of the day: Don’t travel far

On the other hand, the fourth day is regarded as an auspicious day, which is a day to welcome the God of the Kitchen. Families burn incense, light candles, and prepare fruits, alcohol, fish, chicken, and pork to welcome the gods.

February 5

年初五 (nin4 co1 ng5) nin-chor-ng: The fifth day of the Chinese New Year
Custom of the day: Welcome the God of Fortune

This day is the birthday of the God of Fortune, so people keep their doors or windows open to welcome him. This is when shops and companies usually resume normal business.

We would happily welcome the God of Fortune to our homes. Photo: Shutterstock

February 6

年初六 (nin4 co1 luk6) nin-chor-luk: The sixth day of the Chinese New Year
Custom of the day: Get rid of rubbish

The rubbish from the first to the fourth day of the Chinese New Year is considered “wealth”, but after the fifth day, the garbage will turn into a sign of “poverty”. So on the sixth day, people need to clean up all the trash around them in order to get rid of poverty and welcome wealth and fortune.

February 7

年初七 (nin4 co1 cat1) nin-chor-chut: The seventh day of the Chinese New Year
Custom of the day: Everyone’s birthday

According to Chinese mythology, the mother goddess Nu Wa created human beings on the seventh day after the creation of the world, therefore the day is marked as the birthday of humankind. People should take extra care to respect each other on this day, while parents and employers should not scold their children or employees.

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