The lunisolar Chinese calendar determines the date of Lunar New Year. The calendar is also used in countries that have been influenced by, or have relations with, China – such as Korea, Japan and Vietnam, though occasionally the date celebrated may differ by one day or even one moon cycle due to using a meridian based on a different capital city in a different time zone or different placements of intercalary months.
Chinese calendar defines the lunar month with winter solstice as the 11th month, which means that Chinese New Year usually falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice (rarely the third if an intercalary month intervenes). In more than 96% of the years, the Chinese New Year's Day is the closest new moon to lichun (Chinese: 立春; "start of spring") on 4 or 5 February, and the first new moon after Dahan (Chinese: 大寒; "major cold"). In the Gregorian calendar, the Lunar New Year begins at the new moon that falls between 21 January and 20 February.[verification needed]
The Gregorian Calendar dates for Chinese New Year from 1912 to 2101 are below, along with the year's presiding animal zodiac and its Stem-branch. The traditional Chinese calendar follows a Metonic cycle, a system used by the modern Jewish Calendar, and returns to the same date in Gregorian calendar roughly. The names of the Earthly Branches have no English counterparts and are not the Chinese translations of the animals. Alongside the 12-year cycle of the animal zodiac there is a 10-year cycle of heavenly stems. Each of the ten heavenly stems is associated with one of the five elements of Chinese astrology, namely: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. The elements are rotated every two years while a yin and yang association alternates every year. The elements are thus distinguished: Yang Wood, Yin Wood, Yang Fire, Yin Fire, etc. These produce a combined cycle that repeats every 60 years. For example, the year of the Yang Fire Rat occurred in 1936 and in 1996, 60 years apart.
Many people inaccurately calculate their Chinese birth-year by converting it from their Gregorian birth-year. As the Chinese New Year starts in late January to mid-February, the previous Chinese year dates through 1 January until that day in the new Gregorian year, remaining unchanged from the previous Gregorian year. For example, the 1989 year of the Snake began on 6 February 1989. The year 1989 is generally aligned with the year of the Snake. However, the 1988 year of the Dragon officially ended on 5 February 1989. This means that anyone born from 1 January to 5 February 1989 was actually born in the year of the Dragon rather than the year of the Snake. Many online Chinese Sign calculators do not account for the non-alignment of the two calendars, using Gregorian-calendar years rather than official Chinese New Year dates.
One scheme of continuously numbered Chinese-calendar years assigns 4709 to the year beginning, 2011, but this is not universally accepted; the calendar is traditionally cyclical, not continuously numbered.