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Why Does Chinese New Year Fall On A Different Date Each Year?

By Kah Joon Liow

I'm sure you've noticed that Chinese New Year falls on a

different day each year.

Here's a list of Chinese New Year dates from the

year 2000 to 2014 at

Why is this so?

I asked myself the same question and finally I figured it


Spring begins (立春, l'chūn) each year around Feb 4th (in

the Western calendar).

The first day of Chinese New Year starts on the New Moon

closest to spring.

(That's why Chinese New Year is called the Spring


And ends on the Full Moon 15 days later with the Lantern


The first day of Chinese New Year is always between Jan 21st

and Feb 21st.

But why are Chinese New Year dates so "unpredictable"?

To answer this question, one has to look at how a month in

the Chinese calendar or lunar calendar is calculated.

A Chinese month yue4 月 which means "moon is a REAL moon.

Each lunar month starts on the day of the new moon.

This is the day the moon is closest to the sun and not

visible at all.

Does it mean that one has to look at the sky each time to

tell the new moon?

Fortunately, the answer is "no".

Otherwise there'll be a lot of stiff necks!

Because the new moon occurs with enough regularity to devise

a calendar based on its phases.

(Full moon in the middle of the month. Moon wanes at the end

of the month).

On average, each lunar month is 29.5 days.

(Sometimes the months are 29 days and other times they are

30 days.)

But multiplying 29.5 days by 12 months gives 354 days.

Which is 11 days short of 365 1/4 days, the cycle of the

four seasons.

Or 11 days "faster" if you like.

So, how does the Chinese calendar "wait for the natural

world to catch up?

By adding an extra month to make a "thirteen-month year".

Well, not every year but every few years.

How often? It turns out seven times every nineteen years.

In this way, the Chinese calendar year keeps in step with

the real world.

Each year in the Chinese Calendar is also named after one of

12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac.

Last year, 2005 was the year of the rooster and 2006 the

year of the dog.

Go to

for a chart of Chinese New Year dates from the year 1900 to 2019 you can

use to tell which is your animal sign.

It's a "cool system because you won't have to remember

how old you are.

You'll just have to know which animal year you were born


About The Author

Kah Joon Liow

Want to discover the culture of Chinese symbols

and characters and enhance your life? LIOW Kah Joon is your

guide. Read his Chinese New Year Special and sign up

for his free Chinese Symbols ezine at

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