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Chinese New Year

Photograph of the Chinese New Year Parade, Sydney 2006.

Chinese New Year Parade, 2006. Courtesy of the City of Sydney.

Chinese New Year is the longest and most important celebration in the Chinese calendar. The new year begins on the first day of the Chinese calendar, which usually falls in February, and the festivities continue for 15 days.

During Chinese New Year celebrations, people wear red clothes, give children 'lucky money' in red envelopes and set off firecrackers. Red symbolises fire, which the Chinese believe drives away bad luck. Family members gather at each other's homes for extravagant meals.

Chinese New Year ends with the lantern festival, where people hang decorated lanterns in temples and carry lanterns to an evening parade under the light of the full moon. The highlight of the lantern festival is often the dragon dance. The dragon can stretch over 30 metres long and is typically made of silk, paper and bamboo.

The Chinese in Australia

Photograph of a Chinese lantern in a doorway, Sydney 2007.

Chinese lantern in doorway, Sydney, 2007. Courtesy of the City of Sydney.

Chinese people first came to Australia in large numbers during the Gold Rush in the 1850s and 60s. About one-third of the miners were Chinese. Many Chinese-Australian families can trace their settlement in Australia to that time. Monuments and buildings developed by Chinese settlers serve as reminders of the long history of Chinese immigration to Australia. Examples remain in towns like Ballarat and Bendigo in Victoria. Memorabilia is displayed in museums like the Chinese Museum, Melbourne, and the Golden Dragon Museum, Bendigo.

Sydney and Melbourne have Chinatowns - Dixon Street in Sydney, and the area around Little Bourke Street in Melbourne. These are a hub for restaurants, Chinese grocery stores and other small businesses, and centres for the celebration of festivals such as Chinese New Year. Brisbane also has a significant Chinatown area in Fortitude Valley.


The Chinese-Australian community holds a variety of events to celebrate the arrival of the New Year. The Great Dragon appears at the Chinese New Year celebrations in the streets of Melbourne. In 2003 a new dragon - the Millennium Dai Loong Dragon - was commissioned from the Foshan Arts Institute China. The Millennium Dai Loong Dragon in Melbourne is carried by over 200 people. It is awakened every year with a ceremony of offerings to the Gods followed by a lion dance. Between wakings, the Millennium Dai Loong Dragon can be seen at the Chinese Museum in Melbourne's Chinatown.

In Sydney, festivities stretch to three weeks and include a Grand Parade, Dragon Boat and Sedan Chair Races and night markets. The Chinese New Year is celebrated in other ways all around the country.

The Chinese calendar

Photograph of the Sun Loong dragon, Bendigo.

Sun Loong dragon. Bendigo Chinese Association Golden Dragon Museum.

Australia follows the Gregorian calendar. Although the People's Republic of China follows the Gregorian calendar for its day-to-day business, the dates of the Chinese New Year and other important festivals are determined by the Chinese calendar which is thought to have been invented by Emperor Huangdi, nearly 3000 years BC.

The Chinese tradition follows a different calendar to the calendar followed in Australia. The Chinese lunar year is divided into 12 months of 29 or 30 days. The calendar is adjusted to the length of the solar year by the addition of extra months at regular intervals. The years are arranged in major cycles of 60 years.

Each successive year is named after one of 12 animals, and these 12-year cycles are continuously repeated. The Chinese New Year is celebrated at the second new moon after the winter solstice and falls between 21 January and 19 February on the Gregorian calendar. The year 2011 translates to the Chinese year 4707-4708.

Chinese Zodiac

Photograph of the Rooster Dance, Sydney Town Hall 2005.

Rooster Dance, Town Hall, Sydney, 2005. Courtesy of the City of Sydney.

Chinese New Year, pronounced in Chinese as 'xin nian', occurs on the first day of the first month of the lunar calendar. There are different versions of the story behind the development of the Chinese zodiac, but all the versions are based around a race called by an Emperor to determine the animals to be represented.

The cunning Rat hitched a ride on the back of the Ox and crossed the winning line first. The Rat was followed (in order) by Ox (Cow), Tiger, Rabbit (Cat), Dragon, Snake, Horse, Ram (Goat, Sheep), Monkey, Rooster (Chicken), Dog and Pig (Boar).

According to the Chinese zodiac, you take on the characteristics of the animal associated with the year of your birth, but those characteristics are also influenced by what time of day you're born, what fixed element you belong to (water, metal, wood, fire, earth), as well as the influence of Yin and Yang.

The Chinese zodiac for the next 12 years is:
2011 - Rabbit
2012 - Dragon
2013 - Snake
2014 - Horse
2015 - Sheep (Goat)
2016 - Monkey
2017 - Rooster
2018 - Dog
2019 - Pig
2020 - Rat
2021 - Ox
2022 - Tiger

The Year of the Rabbit in 2011

People born in the Year of the Rabbit are said to be kind and loving, with grace, culture and beautiful manners. Notable Australians born in the Year of the Rabbit include: Slim Dusty (singer), John Howard (former Prime Minister), Brett Whiteley (artist) and Geoffrey Rush (actor).

Useful links


Chinese zodiac and calendars

The Chinese in Australia


Chinese Australians

History and heritage

Chinese heritage centres and museums

Associations and networks

Image collections

Education Resources

Last updated: 4th February 2009