10 Important Traditions of Chinese New Year
The Year 2021 welcomes the Year of the Metal Ox for Chinese all over the world. The 12 Chinese zodiac signs and 5 elements were identified over 2,000 years ago and this cycle continues to the present day. The Ox is known for diligence, dependability, strength and determination.
Chinese New Year, also knows as the Spring Festival, starts on the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month of the Chinese calendar. The festival lasts for about 23 days, ending on the 15th day of the first lunar month the following year in the Chinese calendar.
To simplify, the celebration actually begins 7 days prior to the Chinese New Year Eve (similar to Advent leading up to Christmas), where the house is cleaned and all the necessary shopping done in preparation for the festival.
On Chinese New Year's Eve, the home is decorated in anticipation of the family reunion. At midnight, firecrackers and fireworks are traditionally set off to ward off evil spirits following the family reunion dinner where families enjoy a splendorous banquet. One would usually stay up late and it is not unusual for families to begin gambling for fun (and good fortune).
Some popularly observed traditions include:
- Spring cleaning the house – this is a practice believed to clean away bad luck and putting away the old to usher in the new.
- Shopping for new things especially clothes – since this is a new year, purchasing new items symbolizes welcoming new things and getting ready for a new start.
- Decorating the home and often the display of the “Fu” Chinese character which means good fortune and happiness on New Year’s Eve.
- Feasting during the Family Reunion Dinner.
No matter the distance, family members will unite for their biggest annual gathering. This is the largest human migration on the planet with 3.5 billion journeys taking place in China itself. An exquisite banquet is served with a wide spread of dishes, that typically include a whole fish, lotus root, piglet, dumplings etc. In Malaysia and Singapore, there is a custom of having a special dish called “Yee Sang” as an appetiser, where everyone around the table would use their chopsticks and mix the ingredients together, while calling out good wishes for the year.
- Firecrackers are usually set off at midnight marking the starting moment of the new year. Once again, this is believed to ward off evil spirits.
- “Red envelopes” or packets or better known as “hong bao” filled with money are handed out – from employers to employees, parents to children, the elderly to the younger ones. This money is considered “lucky money” which will bring good fortune for the year.
- Greeting parents and grandparents. Children gather in the morning of the new year wearing their new outfits. Next, they will greet their parents with wishes of good fortune. Oftentimes, while the parents are usually seated, the child would be standing in front of them and with a bow, greet their parents with a wish of prosperity and good fortune for the year ahead. Parents then hand them the first red envelopes/ packets filled with money to bring them luck for the year ahead.
- Enjoying a dragon or a lion dance. This is accompanied by a band of musicians and is often loud as it is believed to scare off bad luck and bring in good luck.
- Visiting friends or relatives to greet them and exchange red envelopes. There are usually mandarin oranges and snacks available for guests.
- The celebration ends with the lantern festival where red lanterns are lighted up in homes or on the streets. Lanterns signify a light source embodying the belief that the year ahead will be filled with light.
Another interesting fact - as the world’s population is expected to hit 7.7 billion this month, over 2 billion celebrate the Chinese New Year – which amounts to roughly a quarter of the globe!
Despite the travel restrictions experienced globally this year, we trust that the spirit of Chinese New Year lives on and will be celebrated with joy this year. For those who are unable to travel and be with their families, our thoughts are with you.