How to Actually Say 'Happy New Year' in Chinese

December 31, 2019

The New Year is here yet again and we bet you have lots of people you would like to wish all the best in the coming year (and decade, for that matter). From family to friends to colleagues to strangers on the street, we are sure you will be exchanging festive New Year’s greetings left, right, and sideways over the coming days.

On that note, if you want to say “Happy New Year” in Chinese, you would probably translate the phrase literally and go for “新年快乐 xīnnián kuàilè”. Nothing wrong with that, right?

Well, if your aim is to wish a Chinese speaker “Happy 2020”, your wishes are actually a bit vague. There is nothing wrong with this phrase as a New Year’s greeting, but from a cultural standpoint, you can be more specific.

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"Happy New Year" in Chinese as we learned above is "新年快乐 xīnnián kuàilè," and this can be said during the international New Year on January 1, as well as the lunar new year celebrated during 春节 chūnjié (also known as the Spring Festival).

If you want your New Year's well-wishes to be specific to the international New Year on January 1, it is better to say “元旦快乐 yuándàn kuàilè”.If you are wondering why the new year is called 元旦 yuándàn, the answer is simple: "元 yuán" means “first” or "beginning" and “旦 dàn” means “dawn” or “daybreak”. Talk about straightforward!

Think Chinese is hard? Find out why we disagree.

The History of 元旦 in China

In the past, 元旦 yuándàn used to refer to the lunar holiday 春节. This is due to the fact that prior to the establishment of the PRC in 1949, China used only the lunar calendar. When the PRC came into being, the Gregorian (also known as international) calendar became the official calendar of China. With it came the celebration of the international New Year, and thus the title of 元旦 was shifted to January 1. It has remained the name for the international New Year ever since.

元旦 Traditions in China

元旦 lags behind the Spring Festival in terms of deep-rooted tradition in China. If you are looking for age-old customs and lore, you would do better to read up on the Spring Festival.

Satiate your curiosity about the Spring Festival celebration with our answer to [What is the Spring Festival in China](https://cultureyard.net/blog/spring-festival-in-china).

However, simply because Spring Festival has a longer history does not mean that there are no international New Year’s celebrations happening in China! You are sure to find parties, discounts, and (if you are in the right place) fireworks galore. If you don’t have any celebrations in your area, grab some friends and count down to the new year. You can carry on your old family traditions or even start some new traditions of your own!

What are some of your favorite New Year’s eve traditions? Let us know in the comments below!