Based on a lunar calendar as opposed to the western Gregorian calendar, Chinese New Year can occur on any date between late January and early February. Chinese New Year begins on the first day of the lunar month and continues for 15 days, culminating on the 15th day with a lantern festival. Each year is symbolized by a different animal - 2011 is the year of the rabbit.
Legend dictates that before leaving earth, Buddha requested a meeting with all the animals. Only 12 animals came to meet him. Buddha named a year after each animal who came.
Traditional preparations for Chinese New Year begin well in advance and include cleaning houses and buying new clothes. Red clothes are worn and children are given "lucky" money in red envelopes. According to the Chinese, red symbolizes fire and is believed to drive away bad luck.