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Why do Chinese call New Year “元旦 (yuándàn)”?

Dec. 31, 2014

New Year’s Day 2015 is coming! Happy New Year! New Year's Day is an official holiday in many countries, but different countries celebrate the day in unique ways So what is New Year in China like? How do Chinese people celebrate it? Let’s take a closer look!

In China New Year’s Day is called “元旦 (yuándàn).” “元 (yuán)” means beginning and many things that happen first are called, “元(yuán).” For example, in ancient China, “状元 (zhuàngyuan) was the number one scholar in the imperial examination (current day civil servant exam). “旦 (dàn)” is a pictograph, with the “日 ()” on the top meaning the sun, and the “一 ()” at the bottom referring to the horizon. Therefore, “旦 (dàn)” means that the sun is rising slowly from the horizon, which indicates the beginning of a new day. Thus, the combination of these two words, “元旦 (yuándàn),” refers to the first day of the new year.

The legend of “元旦 (yuándàn)” dates back to the ancient times in China. 4000 years ago, China was a tribe successively led by three great and beloved leaders “尧 (yáo),” “舜 (shùn)” and “禹 ().” People during that time regarded the day when “舜 (shùn)” held a ritual ceremony for the late leader “尧 (yáo)” as the beginning of the new year. That day is called “元旦 (yuándàn).” Thus began the tradition in ancient China, where emperors of every dynasty would hold big ceremonies on “元旦 (yuándàn)” for gods and ancestors, praying for peace and prosperity.

A popular celebration is the holding of the New Year’s Gala by organizations like schools, companies, factories, etc. Nowadays, many people will also go out with their friends for a countdown party to welcome the coming of the new year with hundreds and thousands of people on the squares and malls.


1. “旦 (dàn)” in “元旦 (yuándàn)” is a pictograph, what does it refer to?

A. The sun is shining in the sky.
B. The sun is disappearing slowly from the horizon.
C. The sun is rising slowly from the horizon.

2. If you spend “元旦 (yuándàn)” in China, what would you do?

A. Watch Dragon boat racing.
B. Attend New Year's Eve countdown party.
C. Paste couplets.

See Answers



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