Human World

Lunar New Year 2024: The Year of the Dragon

Watch a video about the 2024 Lunar New Year: The Year of the Dragon.

Over a billion people in China and millions around the world will celebrate the Lunar New Year this weekend. The start of the holiday coincides with the time of the new moon, which will fall just a few hours from now – 22:59 UTC on Friday, February 10, 2024 – or this afternoon according to clocks in the Americas. That’s equivalent to Saturday morning in Beijing. The Lunar New Year is a time to honor deities and ancestors and to be with family. This year, it’s the Year of the Dragon.

The Year of the Rabbit will end on February 9, 2024. And then the Year of the Dragon will start on February 10, 2024. Next comes the year of the Green Wood Snake, starting on January 29, 2025.

Available now! 2024 EarthSky lunar calendar. A unique and beautiful poster-sized calendar showing phases of the moon every night of the year! And it makes a great gift.

Lunar New Year: People in red and yellow carry a dragon float over their heads through a street lined with festive onlookers.
The largest Lunar New Year parade outside of Asia typically occurs in Chinatown, Manhattan, New York. In 2024, the parade is on February 25. Image via Patrick Kwan/ Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0).

The calendar and Lunar New Year

In China, the familiar Gregorian calendar is used for day-to-day life. But Chinese calendar dates continue to be used to mark traditional holidays such as the new year and the fall moon festival. And then Chinese astrology uses the lunar calendar to determine favorable dates for weddings and other special events.

In other words, the Chinese calendar is a lunisolar calendar, a combination of solar and lunar calendars. Plus, it has a long history spanning several Chinese dynastic periods from as far back as the Shang Dynasty around the 14th century BCE. Also, there are several different symbolic cycles within the calendar, used in Chinese astrology.

So the Chinese calendar is an intricate and complex measure of time.

The Chinese calendar is based on a lunar cycle

A month in the Chinese calendar spans a single lunar cycle. In fact, the first day of the month begins during the new moon, when no sunlight falls on the lunar hemisphere that faces Earth. So, a lunar cycle, on average, lasts 29.5 days.

And a lunar month can last 29 or 30 days. As a result, there are usually 12 lunar months in a Chinese calendar year. In order to catch up with the solar calendar, which averages 365.25 days in a year, an extra month is added to the Chinese calendar every two or three years. As a result, Lunar New Year falls on different dates each year (in the Gregorian calendar) between January 21 and February 21.

Two large blue Chinese characters on a red background.
Our friend Matthew Chin in Hong Kong created this graphic and wrote: “The 2 Chinese characters are the same. It means blessing, a hope that other people will get good luck. Blessings like these are commonly used during Lunar New Year. The red background is also a kind of good as Chinese people use red to represent good luck.” Thank you, Matthew!

2024 is the Year of the Dragon

One of 12 animal symbols of the Chinese zodiac (Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep/Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Boar/Pig) represent each year of the Chinese lunar calendar. For 2024, it’s the Year of the Dragon. says:

Chinese Dragon is de facto an imaginary animal, also the only fictitious creature in the 12 zodiac animals, which is composed of 9 animals, including the body of a snake, the horns of a deer, the head of an ox, the mouth of a crocodile, the claws of an eagle, and the scales of a fish. The Dragon enjoys a very high reputation in Chinese culture and it represents auspiciousness and imperial power since ancient times.

Chinese people regard themselves as descendants of the Chinese dragon and emperors entitled themselves exclusively as the ‘dragon’. It is the token of authority, dignity, honor, success, luck, and capacity

How to celebrate Lunar New Year

Lunar New Year: Fireworks over a glittering nighttime city skyline with water in the foreground.
Fireworks display celebrating the Lunar New Year over Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong. Image via Michael Elleray/ Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0).

From the first day of the Lunar New Year (the day of the new moon) to the 15th day (next full moon), Lunar New Year celebrations abound. What’s more, each day holds a special significance that varies according to local traditions. But first, before the arrival of the new year, homes are thoroughly cleaned to sweep away ill fortune and to welcome good luck. Then on New Year’s Eve, families traditionally gather to celebrate and enjoy sumptuous traditional feasts. Finally, at midnight, they greet the new year with fireworks.

In the days that follow, celebrations include a variety of festivities. For example, there are dance parades featuring colorful dragons or lions. Or there are ceremonies to pay homage to deities and ancestors. Plus, children receive money in red envelopes and gifts are exchanged. Extended family members travel long distances to visit each other.

The Lunar New Year celebration traditionally culminates on the 15th day with the Lantern Festival. On this night of the full moon, families mingle in the streets carrying lighted lanterns, often creating a beautiful light display.

Many glowing lanterns hung above a street at night.
Lantern festival in Shanghai, China. Image via North sea deamer/ Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Folklore and Lunar New Year

There are several variations on the mythology behind Lunar New Year celebrations. Most concern the story of an ugly, bloodthirsty monster named Nian. The monster would emerge on the last night of each year to destroy villages and eat people. A wise elder advised villagers to scare the monster away with loud noises. That night, they set fire to bamboo, lit fireworks, and banged their drums. So the monster, afraid of the loud noises and lights, ran away to hide in its cave.

In another version of the myth, an old man persuaded Nian to turn its wrath on other monsters, not the villagers. Before he was seen riding away on Nian, the old man, actually a god, advised the people to hang red paper decorations in their homes and set off firecrackers on the last night of the year to keep Nian away.

Then on the first day of the new year, the villagers celebrated, greeting each other with the words Guo Nian, which mean “survive the Nian.” That tradition has continued to this day, with Guo Nian now meaning “celebrate the new year.”

The world’s biggest New Year celebration

Historically, the Lunar New Year signals the arrival of the world’s largest annual human migration.

Bottom line: The Lunar New Year falls on February 10, 2024 (in Asia). It coincides with the date of new moon and signals the start of the Year of the Dragon.

Read Lunar New Year recipes: 5 Asian cooks share dishes from their celebrations

February 9, 2024
Human World

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