Emoji dictionary

Chinese New Year emoji

[chahy-neez noo yeer ih-moh-jee]

What does Chinese New Year emoji mean?

Tricked you because sadly there is no single emoji officially called or representing the Chinese New Year. Instead, people use a range of emoji including the dragon 🐉, Chinese flag 🇨🇳, or fireworks 🎆 emoji.

Unicode 11.0 approved two new emoji—firecracker and red envelope—marking the major lunar holiday. At the same time it approved the moon cake emoji for the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival.

Related words:

  • Chinese Zodiac
  • Lunar New Year emoji
  • Mid-Autumn Festival
  • Spring Festival

We're a dictionary, yea ... but we also love emoji, so we're going to give you a how-to guide of ... how to ... use emoji for Chinese New Year. Read on!

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Where does Chinese New Year emoji come from?

Chinese New Year Emoji
Tech in Asia

The three Chinese-holiday-specific emoji—firecracker, red envelope, and moon cake, featured below in Emojipedia’s design—were approved under Unicode 11.0, scheduled for rollout in June, 2018. 

Since emoji are originally from Japan, many emoji Westerners associate them with all Asian culture even though they are actually about Japanese traditions and holidays. Some examples include the Moon Viewing Ceremony 🎑, the Tanabata tree 🎋, and the Japanese dolls 🎎, among others. And, since the Unicode Consortium is based in the Bay Area of California, home to many major emoji vendors like Apple and Google, many other holiday-based emoji tend to be Western and Judeo-Christian, such as the Christmas tree 🎄. 

The firecracker, red envelope, and moon cake emoji are the first to explicitly reference Chinese holidays—and for literally billions of people worldwide who celebrate them, it’s a really big deal. The announcement of the new emoji in August, 2017 was so hotly anticipated that it led to a huge spike in search interest for the phrase Chinese New Year emoji during the next Lunar New Year in February, 2018. Representation matters.

These things don’t happen in a vacuum: Prior to the Unicode release announcement, several third-party apps made up for the lack of actual Chinese New Year emoji (and Lunar New Year celebrations in other East Asian cultures) by making Chinese-holiday-themed stickers and icons available.

Those who chose not to use sticker packs tended to make do with existing emoji, like the dragon, Chinese flag, and fireworks emoji. The need and desire for Chinese holiday emoji was definitely there for a long time.

Examples of Chinese New Year emoji

🐉 Chinese New Year Emoji 🐉🎊🔴🍃🎉🌕🇨🇳🐲👲🎆🌏
@Emojipedia, January, 2014
So perfect for #ChineseNewYear!! Happy Year of the Dog! 🎉⛩⛩🐶
@MingNa, February, 2018
Someone sent me a Chinese New Year emoji chain text so it’s proof that those texts are inclusive and unite us all during every holiday
@ChristinaMartha, February, 2018

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Who uses Chinese New Year emoji?

There are a few cases where you’ll hear the phrase Chinese New Year emoji being thrown around. The first usually happens during the actual Lunar New Year season. Sometimes for special events like holidays or awards ceremonies, Twitter will release special event-specific emoji that get added to the text of tweets that include certain hashtags. Since 2016, this has included Lunar New Year. People usually call this Twitter’s Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year emoji.

Other times, you’ll see people making reference to emoji that they perceive as being related to Chinese/Lunar New Year, regardless of whether they actually are (and it happens during all times of year).

Unfortunately, this leads us to a less-fun usage. Oftentimes, you’ll see people describing just any emoji that are related to Asian culture, regardless of any links to Chinese culture, specifically. This comes, for better or worse, from ignorance.

OK, so which emoji actually do fit into the Chinese New Year emoji category? How do you … not be that person? As always, it’s best to start by understanding the context of Chinese culture:

Firecrackers are significant to a lot of Chinese celebrations in particular. Long story short, the color, noise, and flame are all traditionally believed to scare away evil spirits. They tend to be set off en masse at Chinese special events (like weddings and new year celebrations). The existing fireworks emoji 🎆 also fits this theme perfectly.

Red envelopes tend to be exchanged for momentous occasions like weddings, graduations, birthdays, and major holidays, usually with a couple of dollars or coins inside. Or, some candy if you’re cash-strapped.

Both firecrackers and red envelopes are symbols of good luck. So, it makes sense that Chinese people would want to exchange them in emoji format with far-flung loved ones.

The color red is another lucky symbol. Legend has it that a particular shade of bright red helped scare away a monster terrorizing ancient China, and so wearing red for Lunar New Year is now a good luck practice. People sometimes share red emoji like the red paper lantern 🏮or red circle 🔴.

The New Moon emoji 🌑 is perfect for making niche references. Lunar New Year is the first new moon after the winter solstice.

The dumplings 🥟 and money bag 💰emoji both represent financial luck for the new year. The bag of money is clear enough. The dumplings are a symbolic food because they look like, well, bags of money.

Noodles 🍜 and tangerines 🍊 (and dumplings) are all traditional foods eaten during Lunar New Year celebrations.

The animals of the Chinese Zodiac all just happen to have emoji representations. There are 12 in total and cycle through in this order: rat 🐀, ox 🐂, tiger 🐅, rabbit 🐇, dragon 🐉, snake 🐍, horse 🐎, goat 🐐, monkey 🐒, rooster 🐓, dog 🐕, and pig 🐖. According to the Chinese Zodiac, 2018 is the Year of the Dog, 2019 Year of the Pig, and so on.

Because Lunar New Year is a time of cultural pride for many people of diverse Asian heritage, you’ll sometimes see shares of flag emoji representing people’s nations of ancestry, from the Chinese flag for Chinese New Year as we’ve seen or the Thai flag 🇹🇭 for Songkran, Thai New Year. 

Finally, let’s talk about the moon cake emoji. Despite it lunar name, the moon cake is not traditional to Chinese New Year, enjoyed instead during the Mid-Autumn Festival, usually around September or October.

The more you know!

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This is not meant to be a formal definition of Chinese New Year emoji like most terms we define on Dictionary.com, but is rather an informal word summary that hopefully touches upon the key aspects of the meaning and usage of Chinese New Year emoji that will help our users expand their word mastery.