It’s almost Chinese New Year!
This year, the lunar new year falls on February 16th. 2018 is the year of the dog, according to the Chinese zodiac, which repeats every twelve years.
Even though China is beginning to incorporate more and more Western customs and holidays, Chinese New Year is still the most important celebration by far. This is a holiday centered around family – an opportunity to celebrate all of the great events of the past year, and wishing for good fortune in the year to come.
Chinese New Year is typically celebrated for fifteen days, from New Year’s Eve to the Lantern Festival.
Pre-New Year’s Preparations
- Cleaning the House – A thorough cleaning of the house is done in preparation for the New Year. It represents a wish to put away old things, say farewell to the previous year, and welcome the New Year.
- New Year Shopping – This is the time that people buy food, snacks, decorations, and clothes before New Year’s Eve. Right before Chinese New Year, like Christmas in the U.S., is prime shopping season.
- Putting Up Spring Couplets – Spring couplets are paired phrases, typically of seven Chinese characters each, written on red paper in black ink, and pasted one each side of the door frame. The couplets are filled with best wishes, and is thought to keep evil away.
New Year’s Eve
- Decorating – Most people decorate their houses on New Year’s Eve. Common decorations used include red lanterns, red couplets, New Year paintings, and red lanterns.
- Reunion Dinner – The New Year’s Eve feast is the most important event, with all family members reuniting, often having to travel long distances. People from north and south China eat different foods on this special occasion, although a few symbolic dishes are usually included.
- CCTV New Year Gala – It has become a China custom for many families to watch the CCTV New Year Gala on New Year’s Eve. The show starts at 8 pm and ends at midnight when the New Year arrives, featuring traditional, folk, and pop performances from China’s best singers, dancers, and acrobats
- Red Envelopes – Red envelopes filled with money are usually given to kids after the reunion dinner, wishing them health, growth, and good studies in the coming year. Money in red envelopes is believed to bring good luck, as red is China’s lucky color.
- Staying Up Late – This custom is called shǒu suì (守岁); to keep watch over the year. In the past, Chinese people stayed up all night, but now, most stay up only until the midnight firecrackers and fireworks die down.
New Year’s Day
- Setting Off Firecrackers and Fireworks – The moment the New Year arrives, there is a cacophony of fireworks and firecrackers all around, even in rural China. You might want to use earplugs!
- Putting on New Clothes and Extending New Year Greetings – On the first day of the New Year, it is traditional to put on new clothes, and say “gōng xǐ” (恭喜) to wish each other good luck and happiness in the New Year. It is customary for the younger generation to visit their elders, and wish them health and longevity. In more recent years, particularly among the younger generation, those who don’t have time to visit their friends or relatives send a New Year’s card, a WeChat red envelope or a text message instead.
- Watching Lion and Dragon Dances – Lion dances and dragon dances might be seen too on New Year’s Day in parades.
New Year: Day 2-7
- Visiting Friends and Family – This is the time people spend visiting with friends and family during the celebration.
New Year: Day 8
- Returning to Work – 8 is the luckiest number in China, so most businesses prefer to reopen on day eight of the New Year.
New Year: Day 15
- Lantern Festival – This marks the end of the Spring Festival celebrations. People send aloft glowing lanterns into the sky while others let floating lanterns go in the sea, on rivers, or set them adrift in lakes. This is also when tang yuan are eaten.
The Chinese commonly incorporate symbolism and homophones into their traditions and superstitious beliefs. For example, the unlucky number in China is the number 4 (四 sì) because the word is a homophone with the word death (死 sǐ). There are a number of these examples associated with Chinese New Year.
Fish is a staple on dinner tables during Chinese New Year, usually cooked whole. The word for fish (鱼 yú) is a homonym for the word surplus (余 yú), and a common sentiment spoken during this holiday is “surplus/fish year after year” (年年有余/鱼 nián nián yǒu yú). It is also tradition to have fish left over, to symbolize the surplus, especially in the head and tail (hope that the year will start and end with surplus).
Chinese dumplings are made with dough, rolled into skins, and filled with a variety of meats and vegetables. They are typically boiled, steamed, or pan fried. The shape of the dumplings resemble ingots, an ancient Chinese currency used as early as the Han dynasty. They are eaten during the New Year as a symbol of prosperity and wealth.
Try this recipe for vegan Chinese-style dumplings!
Tang yuan are made from glutinous rice flour filled with sesame or red bean paste and served in the sweet broth that they are cooked in. Traditionally, they are eaten at the end of the celebrations, during the Lantern Festival. They symbolize family reunion, as their name is a homophone for reunion, and their round shape symbolizes togetherness.
Here is a vegan-friendly recipe if you want to attempt to make these delicious sticky balls on your own. They are also be purchased frozen at Asian markets, if you want to save time and effort.
The literal translation of nian gao is “year cake (年糕),” and it is used to symbolize prosperity. Gāo can also mean tall (高), so nian gao also refers to ‘getting higher year on year’, and this symbolizes raising oneself taller (in wealth) in each coming year. Follow this recipe to make this sticky sweet treat.
The word 福fú means good fortune in Chinese. The 福 sign upside down is translated to 福倒了 fú dào le, which also sounds like 福到了fú dào le (good fortune has arrived).