Due to the pandemic, many of our foreign students cannot come to China to celebrate, so here is a brief guide to help you learn, join in, and celebrate this special holiday wherever you may be! But before we dive in, let me give you a quick overview of its history and significance in Chinese culture.
History & Facts
Spring festival marks the beginning of the traditional Chinese Year. The date of the new year is determined by the Chinese lunisolar calendar.
This year Chinese New Year lands on the 12th of February! It is a time of reunion, reconciliation, and good will, and is the longest and most important celebration in the Chinese calendar.
Each year of the Chinese calendar is ‘governed’ by one of the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac, which are rotated in a 12-year cycle! This is year is the Year of the Ox! Remember if you are celebrating your Zodiac year, make sure you wear red clothing to help ward off any bad luck associated with one’s Zodiac year.
According to Chinese astrology, people in their Zodiac year are believed to offend Tai Sui, the God of Age, and incur his curse. Therefore, on the whole it is thought to bring misfortune. So, make sure you wear red to get good luck!
Briefly looking at the history, the origins of Spring festival can be traced back to Chinese legend. According to the story, a long time ago, a vicious beast lived in the mountains. Not only did it prey upon wild animals, but the beast also had a taste for people! The beast was known as ‘nián (年)’ – the Chinese word for year. So, every year on the eve of the Chinese New Year’s Eve, Nián would prey on livestock and villagers alike. The people came to call this particular time of the year the niánguān (年关) – the ‘yearly ordeal’.
In time, at every New Year’s Eve, each family would gather together and prepare a large feast. They would secure the chicken coops and cow sheds and bolt their front door. Thus, hiding inside their homes they ate the New Year’s Eve family dinner. When the beast arrived, the streets were empty, and so it would return back into the mountains.
Having survived their yearly ordeal, the people would rush out of their homes in celebration and congratulate their neighbours and let off firecrackers. Eventually people learned that Nian was afraid of the colour red, bright lights and loud noises. So it was that every New year, households would put couplets written on red paper, raise red lanterns, wear red clothes and let off firecrackers – all now part of the traditional spring festival activities. If they did so, the beast would not dare to come down from the mountain.
How to Celebrate Chinese New Year’s Day?
So now knowing a bit of the history, let’s dive in to see how you can celebrate this joyous day away from China! Fact: the Chinese New Year festivities last for fifteen days and ends with the Lantern Festival. For the purpose of this article – we will be looking at the New Year’s Day! But feel free to refer to the infographic at the end of article to see what other activities and customs Chinese people do on each day!
#1 Set off Firecrackers and Fireworks
Firecrackers and fireworks are set off upon opening one’s door on the morning of New Year’s Day. Of course, if you are at home it may not be safe or convenient to do so, so perhaps it might be safer to buy mini firecrackers or sparklers to bring in the New Year.
#2 Hang up Decorations & Put-on New Clothes
Houses are typically decorated with red lanterns, red couplets & paper cut outs! A great way to get into the spirit of the holiday is to put up some decorations. This will help keep evil spirits away and pray for blessing, longevity, health and peace. It is also customary to celebrate the New Year with new clothes.
#3 Send a WeChat Red Envelope to a Friend
Comparable to the Christmas tradition of gift giving in the West, in China people usually give their children red envelopes with money.
Money in a red envelope is believed to bring good luck and it is a gesture that wishes them health, growth and good studies. With the development of technology, it is now common for young people on WeChat to send a WeChat Red envelope. WeChat, as I’m sure you have come across, is a popular multi-purpose messaging, social media and mobile app developed by Tencent. As the pandemic has prevented us visiting family members or friends back in China, a good idea might be to explore using WeChat as a good alternative to send the red envelope to them.
#4 Watch the New Year’s Gala on CCTV
Ever since 1982, China’s state television (CCTV) has held a New Year’s Gala that is broadcast on New Year’s Eve at 8pm. The Gala is a great way for you to watch the festivities! Of course, the time might differ in your home country, but if you miss it or cannot watch it live you can always view it on demand on YouTube.
The Gala is the most the most-watched television event of the whole year and is a mixture of comedy skits, song and dance routines, acrobatics performance and other traditional arts.
Of course, we can not finish the article and not mention food. Here is a list of popular dishes people like to eat around this time in the year and that you may be able to order or cook at home.
Each dish listed below has a symbolic meaning and these are the most common Chinese New Year foods:
- Fish – an increase in prosperity
- Dumplings – wealth
- Spring Rolls – wealth
- Sweet Rice balls – family/togetherness
- Good fortune fruit such as oranges and pomelos – fullness and wealth
- Glutinous Rice Cake – a higher income or a higher position
- Longevity noodles – happiness and longevity
Here’s a couple of popular sayings to wish your friends a Happy New Year:
新年好 – (xīnniánhǎo) – Wishing you a prosperous year · 恭喜发财 – (gōngxǐ fācái) – Happy New Year
- 新年快 – (xīnnián kuàilè) – Have a good New Year
There are loads of different ways to wish your Chinese friends a happy New Year, for more examples go check out our Instagram page!
We hope you find this article useful! Although sadly we cannot be in China in this moment in time, hopefully these tips can help you celebrate Chinese New Year wherever you are in the world.