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Chinese Lunar New Year Celebrations and Traditions

Chinese New Year Celebrations and Traditions

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Chinese New Year is Also Known as Spring Festival

Chinese festivals are based on the traditional lunar calendar. The Chinese New Year, known as the Spring Festival or chun jie (春节), is the most important festival of the year. The holiday marks the end of the coldest days of winter and the anticipation of spring and fresh beginnings. It is also the time to pray for a bountiful harvest season.

The entire family is present and a great deal of preparation is involved in cooking special foods that have a symbolic value. Dumplings, jiao zi (饺子), are considered lucky and will be a part of the northern Chinese meal. A southern household will have a multi-course banquet with more meat served than usual. Fish balls represent a reunion, and eating turnips will bring good fortune. The traditional New Year’s cake, made with sticky rice and brown sugar, is also served.

The family stays up through the night to watch fireworks which will scare away demons and bad luck. Households are brightly lit and fragrant with incense. This incense is burned to welcome the return of the gods that left heaven at the end of the previous year. Gifts such as paper money, tinfoil shapes, and fruit are prepared for New Year’s Day.

10 Interesting Facts about Chinese New Year

1. When Does Chinese New Year Take Place?

The date for Chinese New Year changes each year as it is tied to the Chinese lunar calendar. The first day of Chinese New Year falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice, typically ranging between January 21st and February 20Spring Festival ends 15 days later on the first full moon of the new lunar year with a celebration known as the Lantern Festival.

January 25, 2020, is the start of the Chinese lunar year 4718.

2. What is the Chinese Zodiac Animal for 2020?

2020 is the Year of the Rat, the first animal in the list of twelve Chinese zodiac signs. Chinese zodiac animals have lucky meanings and distinct characteristics. In Chinese tradition, rats were seen as a sign of wealth and surplus. Because of their reproduction rate, married couples also pray to them for children.

It’s believed that people born in a given year will have the personality traits of that year’s animal. People born in the years of the rat are smart, logical, hard-working, and have a positive attitude.

They have a keen intuition and can foresee danger. They are careful with money and have good financial luck.

A rat’s most compatible match is a dragon, monkey, or ox. Their lucky colors are yellow, brown and grey and their lucky numbers are 2, 5, and 8.

Chinese Zodiac Animals Year of the Rat Chinese New Year Celebrations and Traditions
Chinese Zodiac Animals

3. Spring Migration or Chunyun is the world’s largest annual human migration.

As with Americans who return home each year for Thanksgiving dinner, the most important tradition of Spring Festival is the family reunion. Nearly everyone tries to spend New Year’s Eve dinner with their parents. Most working-age Chinese live in the cities while their parents often still live in rural villages, leading to a mass migration of epic proportions. Chinese make nearly 3 billion trips by train, plane, boat, car, and bus during the Spring Festival.

4. Everyone Turns One Year Older on New Year’s Day

According to the traditional Chinese system of age counting, or xūsuì (虚岁), a person’s age is calculated by the number of lunar years or portions of years, they have been alive. For instance, a baby born in November 2017 would turn 4 on Chinese New Year’s Day 2020 because it would have been alive during four lunar years…the Years of the Rooster (2017), Dog (2018), Pig (2019) and Rat (2020.)

5. How to Say “Happy New Year” in Mandarin Chinese

Happy New Year! – xīn nián kuài lè  (新年快乐)
Happy Spring Festival! –  chūn jiē kuài lè   (春节快乐)
Wishing You Great Happiness and Prosperity! –  gong xi fa cai   (恭喜发财)
(in Cantonese) –  gong hei fat choy  (恭喜发财)
May all your wishes come true. –  xīn xiǎng shì chéng   (心想事成)

Want to get the pronunciation right? Try a Pimsleur Mandarin free lesson!

Check out this video for more New Year’s Greetings…

6. Children Receive Lucky Money in Red Envelopes

The Spring Festival tradition of gifting lucky money contained in red envelopes, also known as red pockets, red packets, or hong bao, is believed to bestow blessings and transfer fortune from elders to children. These days it is also common to exchange red envelopes between bosses and employees and even between colleagues and friends. Hong bao must be in new bills, and the total amount must be an even number. The unlucky number “four” is a homonym for “death”, so a red envelope should never contain an amount that includes a four in it.

As a sign of the times, digital red pockets are now the rage. People send virtual hong bao to groups of their friends and families via apps on WeChat and then watch everyone scramble to win the packets by being the first to click them on their smartphones. This is called Qiang Hong Bao, which means “snatching the money of hong bao.”

7. Cleaning and Showering are Not Allowed on Chinese New Year

A day is set aside before the Spring Festival to thoroughly clean your home, which will sweep away ill-luck and allow good fortune to enter. Once this New Year’s good fortune has entered, however, you should not shower, wash clothes, sweep, or toss away garbage for fear of washing or throwing your good luck away. Other things that are taboo during the Spring Festival include swearing, arguing, using scissors and knives, cutting your hair and saying unlucky words such as “sickness” and “death.”

8. Why do the Chinese Decorate in Red and Set off Fireworks for Chinese New Year?

According to legend, the demon monster Nian, (also the Chinese word for ‘year’) would come out from its hiding place at the end of the long winter to terrorize villagers and eat their children and livestock. While most people cowered in their homes, one old man decided to battle Nian. Knowing that the monster was afraid of loud noises and the color red, the brave man dressed all in red and set off firecrackers throughout the night. Nian left the village. Every spring thereafter the villagers would dress in red, decorate their homes with red lanterns, banners, and paper cuttings and light fireworks to scare off monsters and bad luck. Today, China produces 90% of the world’s fireworks.

Watch Nian’s story below:

9. More than 2 Billion People Celebrate Spring Festival or Lunar New Year

With almost 1/4th of the world’s population taking part, Spring Festival is the most celebrated holiday in the world.
The countries in which Spring Festival or Chinese New Year is an official public holiday include Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Indonesia, The Philippines, Vietnam, South Korea, Malaysia, North Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Brunei. There are also significant celebrations in cities such as San Francisco, New York, Vancouver, London, and Sydney.

10. Rent-a-Date to Meet Your Parents

Deeply held Confucian ideals and traditions surrounding marriage and the continuation of bloodlines lead Chinese parents to exert enormous pressure on their twenty-somethings to marry young and produce grandchildren. In fact, career women over 27 are considered ‘leftover girls’ or sheng nu.

This leads to great family anxiety at the New Year’s reunion. An increasingly popular way for young singles to temporarily avoid parents’ nagging and pressure is by renting a boyfriend or girlfriend online. For approximately $100/day you can rent a date for your family festivities. There are several dating/rental apps with hundreds of ‘rental lover’ ads to choose from.

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