Updated: Jun 18, 2020
I recently saw a bit of debate on the Chinese New Year and to why it’s important. Why it's celebrated on January 25th 2020 if the beginning of the Geng Zi (Yang Metal Rat) actually changes on 4th of February. So why is there a discrepancy in the dates? Which one is correct? Technically, the answer is both! But for different reasons.
To understand lets go back to some Feng Shui theory and history. The same way days begin and end at midnight, the marking of the months begin on the day of the new moon. January 25th is the new moon day of the first lunar month in the Chinese Lunar Calendar system, in 2020 The exact new moon time is at 5:43 on 1/25/2020 in China's time zone. Years begin on the second (or third) new moon after the winter solstice . Solar terms govern the beginning and end of each month. The solar year is, the time between winter solstice. It’s divided into 24 solar terms known as Jie Qi. Each term is a 15 day cycle of energy. These solar terms mark both Western and Chinese seasons as well as equinoxes, solstices, and other Chinese events. On a side note, these events correspond to the pagan wheel of the year. They are marked by the 60 Jia zi cycle of hours which cycle thru 5 day, 3 times for total of 15 days. Each 5 day Cycle is divided into an upper, middle and lower cycle, forever repeating.
This is why the it's celebrated January 25th but the "Year of the Rat" doesn't come in until February. The technical answer has to do more with the very last 15 day Jie Qi cycle ending. The final and 24th Jie Qi called Greater cold starts January 20th ends on February 4th starting a new cycle and called Beginning of Spring, staring a new Jia Zi year or 60 pillar cycle for the year.
Lunar or Solar? Why Not both?
The lunisolar year begins with the first spring month, and ends with the last winter month. The Chinese calendar is lunisolar and is based on exact astronomical observations of the sun's longitude and the Moon's phases. It attempts to have its years coincide with and share some similarities with the Jewish calendar. In both these calendars, a common year has 12 months and a leap year has 13 months; and an ordinary year has 353–355 days while a leap year has 383–385 days.
The Jia Zi explained
** "On a broader scale, the Chinese lunisolar calendar counts it's years according to the stem-branch domination system, which is a 60-year rotating name system also known as the 60 Pillars or JIa Zi literally (Yang Wood Rat) . By this, a year’s name actually contains two parts: the heavenly stem and the earthly branch. terms.
The heavenly stem, is taken from a rotating list of 10 terms concerning the yin/yang forms of five elements. The Stems (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water): jia, yi, bing, ding, wu, ji, geng, xin, ren, and gui.
The earthly, branch is taken from a rotating list of the 12 animal names of the Chinese zodiac.
zi = rat chou = ox yin = tiger mao = rabbit chen = dragon si = snake wu = horse wei = sheep/goat shen = monkey you = rooster xu = dog hai - boar/pig
Putting the stem and branch terms together, the first year in a 60-year cycle is called jia-zi (Year of the Rat) as jia is the Heavenly stem and zi (rat) is the Earthly branch. The next year is yi-chou (Year of the Ox), and so on. The 11th year is jia-xu, etc., until a new cycle starts over with jia-zi." This makes for a total of 60 combinations.** Source Section from Famers Almanac - edited for wording and clarity.
Let's get philosophical
To explain a bit of why the new energy cycle starts at the Beginning of Spring let's take a trip to the origins of Feng Shui and Chinese metaphysics...the great YiJing (IChing). Each month is represented the by Cyclical Gua (Xiao Xi Gua) of hexagrams (series of 6 lines) as you can see these hexagrams have yin line (broken line) and yang lines (Solid lines) in a stacking or declining pattern. If we just focus on the month of February represented by the hexagram called Unity there are all broken or yin like on top and solid or yang lines on bottom. This is a literal representation of Earth over Heaven. This is a perfect union and symbiosis of the two energies working together and the start of new life. Spring = New Cycle