Lunar New Year is just around the corner. Like Christmas in the West, the Lunar New Year is a time for spring cleaning, family reunions, elaborate meals, and the giving of blessings to family, friends, and acquaintances, in the form of hong bao or lai see—red packets containing money.
Each year is represented by one of 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac in the following sequence—rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig—whose characteristics are believed to shape the year and the people born in it. Here’s what you should know about the upcoming new year.
Lunar New Year starts Feb. 5 and will last for two weeks. People in China get a week off, starting from Lunar New Year eve on Monday (Feb. 4), when families gather for a reunion dinner. Celebrations last through the 15th day of the first lunar month, ending with the Lantern Festival on a full moon night. On that day, which falls on Feb. 19 this year, people play at riddles and eat tang yuan, glutinous rice dumplings that symbolize reunion.
According to the Chinese zodiac, this is the year of the pig, though babies born in 2019 before Feb. 5 belong to the year of the dog, which began on Feb. 16 in 2018. The start dates come from the lunar calendar—with the year beginning with the second new moon after the winter solstice.
As a result of the 12-year cycle, previous pig years include 1923, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007.
The pig is a huge part of China’s culture. For instance, the Chinese character for “family,” or 家, consists of two parts— with the upper part 宀 symbolizing the roof, and lower part 豕 (shǐ ) meaning pig in ancient China. That reflects the importance of pigs (link in Chinese) historically in China’s agricultural society. Today, China is the world’s biggest pork consumer.
People born in the year of a particular zodiac animal are believed to inherit some of the sign’s characteristics. In general, the pig is associated with mildness, fortune, and wealth. People born in the year of the pig are supposed to be cheerful, sincere, and brave.
Zodiac theory interacts with China’s theory of the five elements, which also shape character: metal, wood, water, fire, earth. Zodiac animals have both fixed and non-fixed elements.
The pig is always associated with water as its fixed element. Since 2019 is considered to be an earth year according to the lunar calendar, those who are born in this year of the pig will be “earth pigs,” who have the characteristics of being easygoing, kind, and persistent (link in Chinese).
The previous year of the pig, in 2007, was a year of fire, with people born then considered communicative and stubborn. Combinations of animal and elements repeat in a 60-year cycle.
A cautionary note: it’s generally believed to be bad luck when the current zodiac year is the same as the year you were born in. So people born in previous pig years have to be cautious about their well-being and wealth.
The elemental theory holds that the elements can work with or against each other. So some zodiac animals can get along when their fixed elements are complementary—or not, when the opposite is true.
Pigs are thought to be most compatible (link in Chinese) with tigers, followed by rabbits and goats. And pigs don’t get along well with snakes, because water, the fixed element associated with the pig, will put out fire, which represents the snake.
Some Chinese idioms play on the zodiac word to wish people good luck and fortune. In the following idioms, the original Chinese character homophones of 猪 (zhū) have been replaced.
- 如猪如宝 (rú zhū rú bǎo): As precious as jewelry. 猪 is the homophone of 珠, or “bead.”
- 猪光宝气 (zhū guāng bǎo qì): Dressup with fancy accessories, A same play as the above for 猪
- 猪事如意 (zhū shì rú yì): Everything works as one wishes for. 猪 is the homophone of 诸, or “every”
- 猪笼入水 (zhū lóng rù shuǐ): A basket used to carry pigs is filled with water. Water represents wealth (link in Chinese) in feng shui.
Peppa Pig, the British cartoon character that has become a hit in China, is likely to dominate Chinese screens in the year of the pig. Introduced to China in 2015, Peppa took off in China in 2017 thanks to live-streaming services. Along the way, wholesome Peppa has become a symbol of shehuiren, a term for “gangster” for those who want to live a life free of constraints.
A feature film starring Peppa will hit China’s theaters on the first day of Lunar New Year. The cartoon character’s rights holder, Canada-based Entertainment One, has also said that two theme parks based on Peppa will open this year in Beijing and Shanghai.
In South Korea, Lunar New Year is known as Seollal. Pigs in the country represent wealth and good luck, and a pig museum in South Korea has received 30% more visitors in January, compared to the same period last year. The museum expects to see more than 120,000 visitors this year (video).
In Vietnam, where the Lunar New Year is known as Tet Nguyen Dan, people will pay tributes to gods and ancestors, hoping to get good luck and blessings.