The Mathematics of Chinese New Year (How to calculate its date)


If you are curious about the Mathematics behind the Chinese Calendar, do check out this website by Professor Helmer Aslaksen.

Excerpt: One rule of thumb is that Chinese New Year should be the new Moon closest to the beginning of spring (立春, lìchūn). This rule is correct most of the time, but it can fail if Lìchūn falls close to halfway between two new Moons. It failed in 1985 and will fail again in 2015. Since Lìchūn falls around February 4, this helps explain why Chinese New Year will always fall between January 21 and February 21. It also helps explain why Chinese New Year is called the spring festival. If you have a Western calendar that indicates the phases of the Moon, this will give you an approximation of the date of Chinese New Year. But notice that the Chinese calendar uses the time of new Moon in China.

As explained above, Chinese New Year will always fall between January 21 and February 21. The tropical (or solar) year is about 365.25 days, while a synodic (or lunar) month is about 29.5 days. Hence a lunar year consisting of 12 months will be about 12 x 29.5 = 354 days. So a lunar year is about 11 days shorter than a solar year.

The second rule of thumb is therefore that most of the time Chinese New Year will fall 11 (or sometimes 10 or 12) days earlier than the previous year, but if that would take us outside of the Chinese New Year range of January 21 to February 21, we must add a leap month, so Chinese New Year jumps 19 (or sometimes 18) days later. If this rule takes you close to January 21, you can end up being one month wrong, otherwise you will be at most one day off.

Read more at: