A Guide To Chinese New Year In Chicago

Shannon Blum
January 23, 2020 - 1:48 pm

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Celebrate 2020 all over again thanks to the lunar calendar and ring in the Year of the Rat!

Chinese New Year officially begins Saturday, Jan 25 and ushers in the rat — the first of the 12 Chinese Zodiac signs and a symbol of wealth. 

Related: Cocktail Of The Week: Fortune Cookie Martini

Chicago will celebrate the Lunar New Year with events all around the city from Jan. 25 through Feb. 9. Join in the celebration by watching lion dancers at a parade, having a meal at your favorite Chinese restaurant or seeing a live performance of traditional music. There truly is something for everyone this new year.

Chinese New Year Lion Dance

What is Chinese New Year?

Chinese New Year is the most important holiday in China and to Chinese people all over. The holiday is celebrated by more than 20 percent of the world. It is also the longest Chinese holiday.

Chinese New Year is also known as the Spring Festival. Although it is still winter, the holiday marks the end of the coldest days. People welcome spring and new beginnings.

You can also call it the Lunar New Year, because countries such as North and South Korea and Vietnam celebrate it as well. The Spring Festival also goes according to the lunar calendar, which means there’s no set date for Chinese New Year. Chinese New Year ranges from January 21 to February 20.

When is Chinese New Year?

Preparations for the new year begin on Jan. 14 and last until New Year’s Eve (Jan. 24). Chinese New Year, otherwise known as the Spring Festival, officially begins on Saturday, Jan. 25 and ends on Feb. 4. Following Chinese New Year, preparations begin for the Lantern Festival, which takes place on Feb. 8.

The history behind fireworks

Chinese New Year is also the day where the most fireworks are set off in the world. According to a legend, there was a monster named Nian that would come every New Year’s Eve, scaring people, but one boy was brave enough to fight him off with firecrackers. The next day, people celebrated by setting off more firecrackers. Now, people stay up on Chinese New Year’s Eve and set off firecrackers at midnight to scare off monsters and bad luck, and in the morning, set off more to welcome the new year and good luck.

Red Envelopes

The history behind the color red

Continuing on with the legend of Nian, it was learned that the monster was afraid of fire, noise, and the color red. From then on, the color red was considered to bring good luck and good fortune.  The Chinese will hang up red lanterns and strings of chili peppers, paste red paper onto doors and windows, and more.

There is also the tradition of red envelopes. During Chinese New Year, children will receive red envelopes, also called red packets or pockets, that include money. The money is supposed to help transfer fortune from the elders to the kids.

2020 – The Year of the Rat

The rat is the first of all zodiac animals. In Chinese culture, rats were seen as a sign of wealth and surplus.

Recent years of the Rat are: 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020.

Bonus: Your zodiac year is bad luck. Your benming year is the year of your zodiac animal. And of the 12-year cycle, it is the unluckiest for you. During this year, your weapon of defense is the color red. Many people will wear red underwear every day of the year. Others add on red shirts, pants, jewelry, and more.

Chicago Chinese New Year Events:

Chinatown branch of the Chicago Public Library
Chicago Public Library

2020 Chinese New Year Concert

Head to the Chinatown branch of the Chicago Public Library on Saturday, Jan. 25 for a classical concert. Featuring the Lincolnwood Chamber Orchestra, Philip Simmons, Founder and Music Director, Carol Wang, soprano, Michele McGrovern, flute and members of the Dong Fang Performing Arts Choir, the program will include excerpts from Chinese “Sights and Sounds” by Bao Yuankai, three Chinese pieces by Abram Chasin, and a selection of popular Chinese songs to celebrate the New Year.

Where: Chinatown Branch, Chicago Public Library, 2100 S. Wentworth Ave.

When: Saturday, Jan. 25, 2-3:30 p.m.

Cost: Free

Global Connections: Chinese New Year

Usher in the “Year of the Rat” with a traditional Chinese New Year Celebration that’s more than you imagine, at Navy Pier’s Aon Grand Ballroom, featuring live dance, music, and other performances, plus traditional food, crafts and more! Presented in partnership with the Chinese Fine Arts Society, this vibrant display of cultural expression features festive décor, bold costumes, customary music and more. Authentic Chinese cuisine from New Furama Restaurant will be available for purchase.

Where: Aon Grand Ballroom, Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand Ave.

When: Saturday, Jan. 25, 1-5 p.m.

Cost: Free

Lunar New Year at Fashion Outlets of Chicago
Fashion Outlets of Chicago

Lunar New Year at Fashion Outlets of Chicago

Ring in the Year of the Rat with special Lunar New Year offers and events! First join the outlet mall for a kickoff event in the food court on Saturday, Jan. 25 from 1-3:30 p.m. featuring cultural performances, along with games and activities. Then all Lunar New Year (through Feb. 9) visit concierge services on Level 1 Level 1 near Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5TH to receive a celebratory red envelope containing: a complimentary commemorative Year of the Rat Savings Pass, providing up to $800 in savings at participating Fashion Outlets of Chicago stores; a complimentary luggage or shopping bag hold; and exclusive Lunar New Year offers from participating stores.

Where: Fashion Outlets of Chicago, 5220 Fashion Outlets Way, Rosemont

When: Saturday, Jan. 25 through Feb. 9

Cost: Free

Lunar New Year at The Shops at North Bridge
The Shops at North Bridge

Lunar New Year at The Shops at North Bridge

Ring in the Year of the Rat with special Lunar New Year offers and events! First join the mall for a kickoff event on Level 1 on Saturday, Feb. 1 from 1-3:30 p.m. featuring cultural performances, along with games and activities. Then all Lunar New Year (through Feb. 9) visit concierge services between January 24 – February 9 for a celebratory red envelope containing exclusive retailer offers.

Where: The Shops at North Bridge, 520 N. Michigan Ave.

When: Saturday, Jan. 25 through Feb. 9

Cost: Free

Symphony Orchestra

Chinese New Year Celebration at Symphony Center

Celebrate the Chinese New Year at Symphony Center with a dynamic afternoon of traditional Chinese music and theater. The Shanghai Chinese Orchestra highlights the history, legacy and influence of Chinese culture with a program of works performed on traditional instruments. The Zhejiang Shaoju Opera Theatre brings the festive costumes, percussion and drama of Chinese opera to the stage. The concert begins at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 26, but you may want to show up early for the pre-concert performance from 1:30 – 2:30 p.m. in Buntrock Hall, free to ticket holders.

Where: Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave.

When: Sunday, Jan. 26, 3 p.m.

Cost: $25-94


2020 Chinese New Year Dumpling Making Dinner

For the 16th year in a row, the Chinese Cultural Institute will host a dumpling making dinner and celebration at Hing Kee restaurant in Chinatown on Feb. 1. The event features a 10-course Chinese meal, Chinese New Year storytelling, dumpling making, and even a lion dance.

Where: Hing Kee Restaurant – 2nd Floor, 2140 S. Archer Ave.

When: Saturday, Feb. 1, 3:30 p.m.

Cost: adults $45, children under 12 $40

Lunar New Year Parade

2020 Argyle Lunar New Year Parade

The annual Argyle Lunar New Year Parade is a decades-old Uptown tradition celebrating the start of the new Lunar Year.  Join them as they kick off the Year of the Rat with music, colorful lion dances, live entertainment, and the community parade which will start at Argyle & Winthrop at 1 p.m. A program follows the parade at 1:45 p.m. Pop-ups will take place near the celebration site, which lasts from noon to 4 p.m., and you can’t go wrong with any of the bakeries and restaurants in the neighborhood if you need to refuel.

Where: Uptown, Argyle & Winthrop

When: Saturday, Feb. 1, noon-4 p.m.

Cost: Free

Ald. Danny Solis/Facebook

Chinatown’s Lunar New Year Parade

The Lunar New Year parade will be held on Sunday, Feb. 2. It steps off at 1 p.m. at 24th Street and Wentworth Avenue, and proceeds north up Wentworth to Cermak Road. The parade will feature marching bands, colorful floats, traditional lion dances, and a special appearance by Ronald McDonald.

Where: Chinatown, 24th Street and Wentworth Avenue

When: Sunday, Feb. 2, 1 p.m.

Cost: Free

Chinese New Year red envelopes

Chinatown’s Chamber of Commerce Chinese Lunar New Year Dinner

Celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year of the Rat by feasting on a traditional Chinese banquet, featuring specially prepared Lunar New Year dishes. Plus, enjoy entertainment, raffle prizes, and red envelope cash drawings.

Where: Cai Restaurant – 2nd Floor, 2100 S. Archer Ave.

When: Wednesday, Feb. 5, 6-9 p.m.

Cost: $85 per person


Lunar New Year Celebration at The Art Institute of Chicago

Celebrate the Lunar New Year with art-making activities, games, performances, an artist demonstration, and gallery talks in English, and also available in Mandarin. At 5 p.m. head to Millennium Park for a special lantern procession, and continue the celebration at Maggie Daley Park.

Where: The Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave.

When: Saturday, Feb. 8, 1-4:30 p.m.

Cost: Free with museum admission

Chinese Lantern

Lunar New Year Celebration and Lantern Procession

After you celebrate the Lunar New Year at the Art Institute of Chicago, head across the street to Millennium Park at 5:30 p.m. to light up the night with a lion-dance led lantern procession from Millennium Park to Maggie Daley Park, followed by more New Year’s activities, including a lion dance finale, arts and crafts, and ice skating. 

Where: Maggie Daley Park

When: Saturday, Feb. 8, 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Cost: Free

Chinese New Year Lion Dance

Winterland Chinese New Year Celebration

Scare away evil spirits and bring good luck into the New Year as you enjoy traditional Chinese Lion and Dragon dances, learn more about your Chinese Zodiac, and watch in awe as the Winterland Ice Rink is taken over by a magical light performance with live dancers. Children may participate in the Chinese lantern-making workshop and march in the procession during the Lantern Parade around Gallagher Way, showcasing the lantern they created.

Where: Gallagher Way Chicago, 3635 N. Clark St.  

When: Saturday, Feb. 8, 4-8:30 p.m.

Cost: Free


Yin He Dance - Lunar New Year

Celebrate the new year with an all-ages family program featuring dances from China’s different regions and ethnic enclaves. Learn and play through performances, cultural lessons, and hands-on activities that are sure to thrill those both young and young-at-heart.

Where: Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St.

When: Sunday, Feb. 9, 2-3 p.m.

Cost: Free, $10 suggested donation

Where to Dine for Chinese New Year

Sunda Chinese New Year 2020


110 W. Illinois

Sunda is kicking off this year with celebratory dishes like longevity noodles, whole fish and unique twist in classic Chinese dessert from Jan. 25 until Feb. 12. On Jan. 26 at 7 p.m., Sunda will be featuring live performance of Chinese Lion Dance. Traditionally, lion dances are performed in celebratory events especially Chinese New Year to bring in good fortunes and chase away evil spirits. May the New Year bring in excellent health, prosperity and family togetherness to everyone!

Chinese New Year at The Peninsula Chicago
The Peninsula Chicago

The Peninsula Chicago

108 E. Superior St.

The Peninsula Chicago is thrilled to announce its Chinese New Year festivities for this year.  Celebrate the Lunar New Year with a special menu at Shanghai Terrace and a themed Afternoon Tea in The Lobby.

  • Chinese New Year Dinner at Shanghai Terrace
    • Experience Chef Elmo Han's authentic Cantonese menu complete with a Shanghai Terrace Dim Sum Trio, Truffle Scallop Hot & Sour Soup, Australian Red Abalone, Traditional Peking Duck, Steamed Chilean Seabass and Shanghai Terrace Beef Tenderloin. This exquisite prix fixe menu is available from Jan. 24-31. Price: $168 per guest
  • Chinese New Year Afternoon Tea at The Lobby
    • Enjoy your Chinese New Year themed Afternoon Tea in The Lobby on Jan. 25.  Each guest will receive a glass of champagne and a delectable selection of themed sweet and savory treats.  Guests will also experience an authentic Lion Dance show throughout the hotel during Afternoon Tea. Price: $115 per guest


Big Bowl - Chicago, Lincolnshire & Schaumburg

60 E. Ohio St., Chicago; 215 Parkway Dr, LincolnshireStreets of Woodfield, 1950 E. Higgins Rd., Schaumburg

Celebrate the Year of the Rat at Big Bowl! The Chinese New Year is about new beginnings and in honor of the holiday, guests can enjoy specials including Traditional Chinese Beef Noodle Soup, Seared Edamame Potstickers, Blood Orange Sangria and more, from Jan. 23-29.