Why does China use the Lunar Calendar?

Have you ever wondered about the difference of the Gregorian calendar and the Lunar calendar when learning Chinese online? In China, we use two calendars, the Gregorian one that we are all used to and a Lunar calendar, which at times can lead to some confusion.

How does it work?

The change of the moon

The dates on the Lunar calendar change every year making it hard to keep up with. Contrary to it’s name, the Lunar calendar isn’t just based on the moon, it’s actually a lunisolar calendar, not only does it take measurements of the phases of the moon, but also on the position of the sun in the sky. It follows 24 solar terms, all with their own name and start-end dates, and is based on a twelve-month calendar.

Ancient Timer in China

These solar terms are split into three categories, the first reflects seasonal changes and includes 8 dates based on the seasons. The second includes 4 dates based on natural phenomena, for example when insects begin to appear or when crops are at their highest yield. The third focuses on climate and includes 12 dates, it indicates when it will be cold/warm, and when it will rain.

The cultural significance of Lunar Calendar

To the rest of the world it’s known as “Lunar calendar” but in China it’s named ‘Agricultural’ or ‘Rural’ calendar, since that was its main aim from the beginning. It’s a calendar that dictates crop rotations, crop life cycles, and agricultural seasons. Created in the Qin Dynasty, the Lunar calendar has continued to develop through it’s 4000-year history to go beyond it’s original status and became tied to cultural traditions. Only in rural provinces is the Lunar calendar still used for it’s original purpose. For everyone else, it governs the dates of traditional holidays and celebrations in China. But the calendar doesn’t just give holidays their significance, many still use it to find auspicious dates to guide them on important life decisions. Because of this, lucky dates mean it’s often a busy time for obstetricians and the marriage court. You can easily look online and find Lunar calendars with guidelines on what to do to increase your luck!

How can you have three birthday?!

One of the most interesting things about using two calendars is having three birthdays! Here’s how it works, imagine you are born on the 21st of January, using just the Gregorian calendar that would be your birthday, even in your legal documents. But in China many write down the Lunar date not the real birth date on the legal documents, so since the Lunar calendar can be 1 month and a bit behind that would mean your Lunar birthday is in December of the previous year!

Birthday Cup cake

So that’s two dates, what about the third? Well the Lunar calendar doesn’t stay the same the dates change every year so that means you not only have a legal ‘lunar’ birthday from the year you were born, your real birthday, but also the lunar birthday that changes every year. I’m confused just thinking about it, but if it means three birthday parties and three sets of presents I’m all for it!

The Lunar calendar is an iconic part of Chinese culture and since 2016 China’s “Twenty-Four Solar Terms” have been given cultural heritage status by the UNESCO.