Understanding the Chinese Traditional Calendar and its Significance

  • March 21, 2016 / ANNA MCMILLEN / 0 Comment

The Chinese Traditional Calendar is based off of the Lunar Calendar and is still important in understanding Chinese culture and traditional holidays. Though nowadays Chinese use the Gregorian (global) calendar, having a basic understanding of the Chinese Traditional Calendar can be helpful in understanding the reason behind holidays, some people’s birthdays, and the choosing of lucky days such as weddings and funerals.


The Chinese Traditional Calendar is used in many East Asian countries including Japan, Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. Just as the name suggests, the calendar is based off the counting the moon cycles from every “Spring” or Chinese New Year. Since every full moon comes around every 30 days or so, each month of the Chinese calendar is either 29 or 30 days long. The solar calendar, or what we known as the Gregorian calendar, is based on the orbit of the Earth around the sun.

There are some similarities with the solar and lunar calendars. As the twelve solar months will each have either 30 or 31 days (of course not including February), so does the lunar calendar. The lunar month will be slightly shorter than a solar month, making the lunar calendar usually a day per month slower than the solar calendar. In order for the two to match up, every two or three years, an extra thirteenth month will be added to the Chinese lunar calendar.

Since it is based on the moon, the days in the Chinese calendar begin and end at midnight. Each lunar month will begin on the day with the new moon, and the year begins with the dark moon at the midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox. The Chinese calendar can be confusing since there are now over 100 variants, and has been in the state of evolving ever since its forming centuries ago. The Chinese calendar is also known as the rural calendar due to its foundation in agricultural habits in China.

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The main importance for the Lunar calendar in today’s society are the traditional holidays and choosing of lucky dates. From Chinese New Year to Mid-autumn’s festival, these dates are determined by the Lunar calendar. This means that translated to the Gregorian calendar, festivals and holidays will fall on different dates each year. However, in the Chinese calendar, it is in fact the same date every year.

There are seven official holidays in China. New Year’s Day, Qingming Festival (Sweeping of the Tombs), May Day (a celebration of International Labor Day), and National Day are fixed based on the Gregorian Calendar. Chinese New Year, Dragon Boat Festival, and Mid-Autumn Day will vary based on the lunar calendar. For example, Chinese New Year will always fall on the first day of the first lunar month. In the Gregorian calendar, this will be between the dates of January 21st and February 20th. For those people who already take note of full moons and new moons each month, the Lunar calendar is another exciting way to see how it works. Other celebrated festivals and holidays that follow the lunar calendar include yuanxiao festival (also known as the lantern festival), Buddha’s birthday, Duanwu, and the Laba Festival.

Many Chinese will choose to celebrate their birthday on the Chinese lunar calendar as well. This is less common with the new generation, however, it is not uncommon for a person’s birth date to change each year based on the Chinese lunar calendar. When celebrating a birthday in China, it is not uncommon for each year to be different. Another interesting note is that some people will count themselves a year older beginning on the Chinese New Year. Others may also add on an extra year, counting the time they spent in the mother’s womb.

The Lunar calendar is also what Chinese astrology is based off of. The twelve animal zodiac signs and basis of Feng Shui as well as other Chinese astrology all stems from the Chinese Lunar calendar. The Chinese zodiac signs differ from Western zodiac signs due to its operation through cycles of years, lunar months, and periods of the day instead of the Western alignment with star constellations. There are certain similarities due to the 12-year cycle of each, however, the basis of the two are far apart.

As the Lunar calendar was very closely tied in with nature and agriculture, each Lunar month has a name that correlates with an event that will traditionally happen in that month. From “Peach Month” to “Lotus Month”, many of the names came from trees or flowers that would bloom at that time. The calendar helped determine when to plough, plant, and harvest for the agriculture in China and was the basis of how Chinese viewed the four seasons.

The Chinese calendar is relevant when determining when to travel or work within China. During the festivals, traveling can be hectic and stressful as masses of people will either return home or decide to travel as well. Having a basic understanding of the Chinese Traditional calendar and the most current dates for important festivals can help make the process a smoother one! Understanding the Chinese traditional calendar and its significance to current society can help in being culturally aware of what is going on around you.


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