As an old Chinese proverb states: “All creations are reborn on new year’s day. It’s a celebration of change.” (万象更新- Wànxiàng gēngxīn)
Days before the Chinese New Year people are very busy preparing for the festivities. Every family cleans their house from bottom to top. They believe that by sweeping away the bad luck of the preceding year, new luck will pass by. On the first day of Chinese New Year, brooms and dust pans are put away to make sure the newly arrived good luck cannot be swept away. Other extreme measures that should prevent this from happening is not showering or throwing out the garbage! Furthermore, families also spare no effort in decorating their homes with red-colored paper-cuts and couplets with ‘good fortune’ or ‘happiness’, ‘wealth’ or ‘longevity’. Similar to the tradition of cleaning, purchasing new things whether it’s a piece of furniture, clothes, or cups, it symbolizes the welcoming of the coming of new things and a new year. Spring Festival couplets are also used in preparation for the new year. It’s difficult to miss these as nearly every household will stick or hang them outside their door with good wishes written on the two vertical scrolls and a horizontal scroll across at the top, usually matched with the “Fu” character that is stuck on the door.
Like Western culture, the Chinese also have zodiac signs. Whereas in Western cultures there are 12 zodiac signs, one for each month, they have 12 in the Chinese culture as well. However, each zodiac sign represents one year. So, depending on the year you were born, you have your zodiac sign. Zodiac animals, such as the rat, snake, dog, and pig, are not the most liked animals. Nevertheless, they have good characteristics, which are emphasized during the Chinese New Year. So, it therefore strongly recommended that you do some background research on your own zodiac sign and the zodiac sign for this coming Chinese New Year.
Also, in China you wish everyone a ‘Happy New Year’. You normally would say: ‘Xin nian kuai le’, which literally translates into Happy New Year. But, in Hong Kong and other Cantonese speaking regions they usually say: ‘Gong hei fat choy’ (恭喜发财) which is translated as ‘congratulations on the fortune.’ So, after wishing everyone a happy new year or good fortune, it’s time for gifts! It is quite common to receive and give gifts on such festive occasions.
However, in China, these gifts are normally money. Note, that the money is given in little red envelopes, also known as 红包 (hóng bāo). As you already know, the Chinese love the color red, it is believed that this color brings luck. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many people like to wear red around this time of year and also why the gifts are packed in ‘red’ envelopes. The money inside the envelopes is also known as 压岁钱 (yā suì qián). Which has the literal translation of “money to anchor the year(s).” Money given in the spirit of the Chinese New Year is often also referred to as “lucky money” or “New Year’s money.” This gift is given by the elders to the younger generation, to ‘pass’ on the good luck. Nevertheless, red envelopes are also exchanged between friends, co-workers, employees and bosses.
New Year’s Eve
On the eve of Chinese New Year, people enjoy supper with their family. The food that is prepared varies widely from region to region. People in the North of China, for instance, make jiǎozi (餃子 – dumplings), as the shape of the dumplings resembles a Chinese tael (currency), which symbolizes ‘wealth’. It is customary in the South to make niángāo (年糕 – new year cake) and send pieces of it as a gift to relatives and friends, since niángāo also means ‘increasingly prosperous year in year out’.
Last but not least, we must say something about dragon dances! Those dances are very common during Chinese New Year. It is believed that the loud beats of the drum together with the face of the dragon would evict bad or evil spirits. Sometimes families even invite private dragon dancers to make sure their relatives are protected from all misfortune.
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