Lunar New Year 2024: What does the Year of the Dragon mean?

6 February 2024
Celebrating Lunar New Year 2024
Associate Professor Xiaohuan Zhao, from Chinese Studies in the School of Languages and Cultures, shares what it means to be born in a Year of the Dragon or to live through the Year of the Dragon in 2024.

What is Lunar New Year? And how is it different from the Western New Year?

There are two distinct celebrations that signify the beginning of a new year in Australia among people of East Asian origins: the Western New Year and the Lunar New Year. Also known as the Gregorian New Year, the Western New Year is observed on 1 January, while the Lunar New Year, also referred to as the Spring Festival or Chinese New Year, is celebrated according to the lunisolar calendar and generally falls between 21 January and 20 February.

While both celebrations share some similarities, they also have their own unique customs and traditions that make them truly special. The Western New Year is widely celebrated around the world and marks the start of the Gregorian calendar year in many countries, particularly in the Western world. On the other hand, the Lunar New Year is a major festival in the Sinosphere or the Sinic world (Chinese-speaking countries and regions, and countries and regions historically under Chinese influence), including mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Vietnam, and Korea.

Happy New Year!

photo of a Chinese Lion Dance for New Year

Chinese lion dance for Chinese new year celebrations. Photo: AdobeStock

New Year is a joyful event that is celebrated globally, without any cultural or religious restrictions. People throw parties, enjoy countdowns to midnight and engage in various activities to celebrate it. In the Sinic world, Lunar New Year or Chinese New Year is particularly significant and has deep cultural and traditional roots. It is a time for families to gather, pay respect to their ancestors and welcome the arrival of spring. So, whether one celebrates with fireworks and parties on 1 January or enjoys traditional foods and dragon and lion dances during the Lunar New Year, both celebrations offer a wonderful opportunity to welcome the new year with joy and excitement.

Why is 2024 Lunar New Year called the Year of the Wood Dragon?

Bright blue lanterns in the shape of dragons in the street at night time

Dragons at the Lantern Festival for the 2024 Chinese New Year, the Year of the Dragon in Shanghai, China, January 2024. Photo: Adobe Stock

The Chinese zodiac is a 12-year cycle that links each year to an animal sign. The 12 animal signs are Rat (shu 鼠), Ox (niu 牛), Tiger (hu 虎), Rabbit (tu 兔), Dragon (long 龍), Snake (she 蛇), Horse (ma 馬), Sheep (yang 羊), Monkey (hou 猴), Rooster (ji 雞), Dog (gou 狗) and Pig (zhu 豬). The order of the animal signs is fixed, with the Dragon being the fifth in the cycle, hence the Year of the Dragon (longnian 龍年) in 2024. Last year, 2023, was the Year of the Rabbit (tunian 兔年) and 2025 is the Year of the Snake (shennian 蛇年).

Each year also corresponds to one of the five basic elements (wuxing 五行) in Chinese cosmology, namely Metal (jin 金), Wood (mu 木), Water (shui 水), Fire (huo 火) or Earth (tu 土), creating a 60-year cycle. The universe is believed to be composed of the five elements that interact with each other in a cyclical way. These five elements are the fundamental building blocks of everything around us. The 60-year cycle is a combination of the 12 animal signs and the five elements. The understanding and application of the five elements is an essential aspect of Chinese astrology, cosmology, medicine, philosophy, and feng shui in particular.

The Chinese lunisolar calendar determines the specific animal and element associated with a particular year. The Year of the Dragon in 2024 is associated with the element of Wood. The combination of the animal sign (Dragon) and the element (Wood) designates the year as the Year of the Wood Dragon.

The Lunar New Year will begin on 10 February in 2024. This marks the start of the Year of the Wood Dragon.

What are people born in the Year of the Dragon like?

Individuals born in the Year of the Dragon, according to the Chinese zodiac, are believed to possess certain characteristics and traits associated with the dragon. They tend to be ambitious, confident and charismatic. They possess an abundance of energy and enthusiasm while also displaying exceptional intelligence and power. They are naturally lucky and gifted, often accomplishing their endeavours with exceptional standards of excellence. However, they may also exhibit negative characteristics, such as arrogance, bigotry, dominance, irritability, and subjectivity, which may make them reluctant to accept defeat.

It is important to note that the characteristics and personality traits associated with the Chinese zodiac signs are generalisations. As with any cultural or astrological tradition, there exists a considerable degree of individual variability that should not be overlooked. Therefore, it is recommended to interpret the Chinese zodiac traits with a cultural understanding and a nuanced approach. The years of the dragon include: 1916, 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000 and 2012.

What are the taboos during Year of the Dragon?

The Year of the Dragon is associated with various taboos that differ across locations and periods in the Sinic world. However, there is a general consensus on certain taboos one should observe:

  • Avoid using characters, and characters that contain the radicals, such as xu 戌 (weapon) or ge 戈 (halberd, spear, lance), and gou 狗 (dog) or quan 犬/ 犭 (dog) when naming a baby born in the Year of the Dragon. This is because chen 辰 and xu戌are mutually exclusive in the Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches (tiangan dizhi 天干地支 or simply ganzhi 干支)
  • Avoid placing the bed in the northwest corner when arranging the furniture in your bedroom, as the northwest is believed to belong to the Earthly Branch of xu 戌, which is associated with the zodiac animal of Dog in Chinese astrology. The Dragon corresponds to the Earthly Branch of chen 辰, which is mutually exclusive with xu
  • Avoid wearing any jewellery that is shaped like a dog
a poodle is all dressed up in necklaces and sunglasses

Don't get a puppy in the Year of the Dragon, no dog-shaped jewellery. Photo: AdobeStock

  • Avoid getting a new puppy
  • Avoid collaborating with or marrying people who were born in the Year of the Dog
  • Avoid collaborating with or marrying people who were born in the Year of the Tiger, because a competitive conflict can easily arise between the Dragon and the Tiger, known in Chinese as longhu dou 龍虎鬥, making collaboration or marriage difficult

Auspicious practices for 2024 Year of the Dragon: Wear yellow, decorate with blue

In Chinese astrology, every zodiac sign is associated with a lucky colour that can impact an individual’s prosperity and fortune. For those born in the Year of the Dragon in 2024, the auspicious colour is gold, which signifies success, wealth and honour. Gold is believed to possess strong positive energy and symbolises the sun and metal. It is considered a symbol of royalty, nobility and wealth, thus making it one of the most auspicious colours for the Dragon.

Yellow is also an auspicious colour for Earth, representing wealth, solidity and stability. Wearing yellow clothes or accessories and using yellow decorations in the home can help increase one’s luck in 2024. Yellow is linked with wealth and money and is one of the auspicious colours for the Dragon. Wearing yellow or using it in decorations can enhance connections and wealth, particularly for those who are starting a business or developing their careers.

Finally, blue is an auspicious colour for Water, representing youth, freshness, vitality and wisdom. Dragon individuals can choose to wear blue clothes and accessories or use blue decorations in their homes to enhance their personal aura and auspicious luck in 2024. Blue is considered a vibrant and energetic colour and is also one of the auspicious colours for the Dragon.

The Lunar New Year will begin on 10 February in 2024. This marks the start of the Year of the Wood Dragon.

Associate Professor Xiaohuan Zhao is an expert in Chinese Literary and Theatre Studies in the School of Languages of Culture. He is also a member of the China Studies Centre and Sydney Southeast Asia Centre. His areas of research expertise include Chinese culture, literature and theatre. 

Top image: Adobe Stock/Generated by AI

Associate Professor Xiaohuan Zhao

School of Languages and Cultures
Chinese Literary and Theatre Studies
See Associate Professor Zhao's academic profile

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