Chinese New Year (農曆新年), also known as the Spring Festival (春節), is the most important Chinese traditional festival. Chinese New Year (CNY) celebrations run from Chinese New Year’s Eve (除夕), the last day of the last month of the lunar calendar, to the Lantern Festival (元宵節) on the 15th day of the first lunar month, making the festival the longest in the Chinese calendar.

In 2018, Chinese New Year falls on 16 February (Friday).

Legend says that there was a man-eating beast, “nian (年獸)”, in ancient China. “Nian” would come from the mountain once a year on the New Year Eve and infiltrate houses silently to prey on humans and animals. People later learned that “nian” was afraid of loud noises and the colour red, so people use explosives, fireworks and colour red to scare “nian” away.

CNY is centuries old and gains significance because of several myths and traditions. Traditionally, the festival was a time to honour deities (神靈) as well as ancestors (祖先). It is a time for family reunion and celebration. It is as important as the Thanksgiving Day and Christmas combined in the Western culture.

In China, regional custom and traditions concerning the celebration of the CNY vary widely. Often, New Year’s Eve is an occasion for Chinese families to gather for the annual reunion dinner (團年飯, 年夜飯). It is also a tradition for every family to thoroughly cleanse the house, in order to sweep away any ill-fortune and to make way for good incoming luck. Windows and doors are decorated with red colour paper-cuts (剪紙) and couplets (春聯) with popular themes of good fortune (福), happiness, wealth and longevity.  Other activities include lighting firecrackers and giving money in red packers (紅封包, 利是).

In China, around 3.5 billion trips are made each year to get to their hometowns for family reunions during the holiday. China’s trains carry more than 350 million passenger trips across a two-week span during the chunyun (春運) ‘spring movement’, an enormous task for the network .

Activities during the Chinese New Year

Annual reunion dinner (團年飯,年夜飯) on New Year Eve

Usually three days before the New Year, families clean up their home and put beautiful decorations usually in red colour on the wall. Housewives prepare good food for the New Year Eve. Members of the family sit around the table. The food usually includes chicken, barbeque pork, a whole steamed fish, prawns, vegetables, etc. In the northern part of China, jiaozi (餃子, dumplings) are the most essential food for the occasion.

annual reunion dinner
annual reunion dinner (團年飯)

dinner 2

Going to the flower markets

Plants like peach blossoms(桃花), narcissus (水仙花), gladiolus (劍蘭花), orchid (蘭花), chrysanthemums (菊花), peonies (牡丹花), mandarin (柑) and kumguat (金桔), lucky bamboo (富貴竹) are sold as cut flowers or pot plants in the markets. Toys and small decorations are also available there. Shopping around the stalls can bring good luck throughout the year.

Chinese New Year flower market (年宵花市塲)
Chinese New Year flower market (年宵花市塲)

 

 

Visiting families

People dressed smartly visit the homes of one another. They bring along gifts like fruits, chocolate and biscuits. Traditionally married couples give red packets (紅封包, 利是) with some cash inside to younger people or their staff. Most areas in mainland China permit firecrackers. In the first three days of the CNY, it is a tradition that people compete with each other by playing with firecrackers. However, firecrackers are banned in many urban areas for safety reasons.

 

Red packets
Red packets (紅封包,利是)

 

Playing with firecracker (放炮竹)
Playing with firecracker (放炮竹)

 

Going to temples to burn joss sticks and incenses

Some people go to temples to burn joss sticks to worship the deities. They ask for favours and blessings for the families.

Temple going (往廟宇拜神上香)
Temple going (往廟宇拜神上香)

 

Inside the temple (在廟宇拜神)
Inside the temple (在廟宇拜神)

 

Watching performance and fireworks

Dragon dance (舞龍) and lion dance (舞獅) are believed to be able to cast away the evil spirit and bring good luck. Cultural performance such as Chinese operas, concerts and variety shows are popular entertainment in all parts of China. The CCTV Spring Festival Gala (Chunwan, 春晚 ) is a big variety show featuring musical, dance, comedy and drama performances and has become a ritual for New Year’s Eve for many years. It is the most premiere television event of China which draws 700 million viewers all over the world. In some big cities like Hong Kong, spectacular and colourful fireworks are displayed in the evening.

Dragon dance (舞龍)
Dragon dance (舞龍)

 

Lion dance
Lion dance (舞獅)

 

Fireworks in Hong Kong (香港煙火滙演)
Fireworks in Hong Kong (香港煙火滙演)

 

Special food for the Chinese New Year

In North China, everyone eats the jiaozi (餃子, dumplings). Jiaozi can be wrapped in the shape of an old silver ingot, yuanbao (元寶).

Steamed dumplings in the shape of yuanbao
Steamed dumplings (餃子) in the shape of yuanbao

 

Nian gao (年糕, year cake),  gao is the homophonic symbol for 高, tall or high. Hence the cake symbolizes achieving new heights in the coming year. Dates are said to bring “early prosperity”.

Niao gao (年糕) with a date in the middle
Niao gao (年糕) with a date in the middle

 

Jin deui /  zhi-ma-qiu (煎堆, 芝麻球, deep fried glutinous rice balls) and jau gok (油角, deep fried glutinous rice dumplings). The pastry is coated with sesame seeds on the outside and is crisp and chewy. Inside the pastry is a large hollow, caused by the expansion of the dough. The hollow of the pastry is filled with sweet lotus paste (蓮蓉) or sweet red bean paste (紅豆沙). As the rice balls or the rice dumplings inflate, your wallets also expand.

Fried sesame glutinous rice balls
Jin deui / zhi-ma-qiu (煎堆, 芝麻球)

 

Jau gok (油角)
Jau gok (油角)

 

Black sesame filled glutinous rice balls (黑芝麻湯圓) These sticky sweet snacks symbolise the family sticking together. Support and collaboration will lead to success and prosperity.

Black sesame filled glutinous rice balls (黑芝麻湯圓)
Black sesame filled glutinous rice balls (黑芝麻湯圓)

 

Chinese candy box (全盒) / The Tray of Togetherness is a traditional box used during CNY to present candies and other snacks to guests. Usually it consists of 6 or 8 (Chinese auspicious lucky numbers) kinds of red sunflower seeds (瓜子) and sugar preserved dried fruits and vegetables like the dried candied lotus seed (糖蓮子), lotus stem (糖蓮藕), ginger (糖薑), water chestnut (糖馬蹄) as well as peanuts (花生), candies and chocolates. The sweet snacks give sweetness and bring happiness and good fortune.

The Tray of Togetherness / Treasure box
Chinese candy box (全盒) /The Tray of Togetherness

 

 Jai ( 齋, Vegetable combinations) This vegetarian dish is eaten because it is part of the Buddhist culture to cleanse oneself with vegetables. It is also packed with good-luck food like fa cai (髮菜, black sea moss Nostac, homophonic with 發財 for prosperity); lotus seeds (蓮子,  brings children), Chinese black mushrooms (冬菇  for “東成西就”, success spaning from east to west), peanuts (花生, 長生果 brings long life).

Jai ( 齋, vegetable combinations)
Jai ( 齋, vegetable combinations)

 

Whole Fish The Chinese word for fish is homophonic with 餘 meaning abundance. It is important that the fish is served with the head and tail intact to ensure a good start and finish.

Steamed whole fish (蒸整條魚)
Steamed whole fish (蒸整條魚)

 

Other dishes like steamed chicken (雞), barbeque pork (燒肉) are also popular.

Steamed chicken (白切雞)
Steamed chicken (白切雞)

 

BBQ pork (燒肉)
BBQ pork (燒肉)

 

Popular flowers for the Chinese New Year Decorations

peach blossom (桃花) brings prosperity and romance
Peach blossom (桃花) brings prosperity and romance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

gladiolus (劍蘭) brings joy and career advancement
Gladiolus (劍蘭) symbolizes strength and moral integrity. It brings joy and career advancement

 

narcissus (水仙花) brings joy. It is a symbol for our hidden talents to bloom.
Narcissus (水仙花) symbolizes rebirth and new beginning. It brings joy and happiness. It is also a symbol for our hidden talents to bloom.

 

Kumquat (金橘) brings properity and good luck
Kumquat (金橘) brings prosperity and good luck

 

Orchids (蘭花) represents love, luxury, beauty and strength
Orchids (蘭花) represents love, luxury, and strength

 

Lucky bamboo (富貴竹) is symbolic of a strong life that is filled with prosperity
Lucky bamboo (富貴竹, Dracaena braunii) is symbolic of a strong life that is filled with prosperity

 

Gold berry (五代同堂, 乳茄, 黃金果 Solanum mammosum) is symbolic of a growing family with many generations
Gold berry (五代同堂, 乳茄, 黃金果 Solanum mammosum) is symbolic of a growing family with many generations

 

 

Peonies (牡丹花) are symbols of wealth, prosperity and peace
Peonies (牡丹花) are symbols of wealth, prosperity and peace

 

Other popular symbols for Good Fortune

Cai Shen (財神, The God of Wealth) brings wealth and prosperity.
Cai Shen (財神, The God of Wealth) brings wealth and prosperity.

 

The three Stargods : (from the left) Shou-xing the Deity of Longevity (壽星, the Deity of Longevity), Lu-xing (祿呈, the Deity of Rank and Promotion), Fu-xing (福星, the Deity of Happiness, usually with a boy in his arm)
The three Stargods : (from the left) Shou-xing (壽星, the God of Longevity), Lu-xing (祿星, the God of Rank and Promotion), Fu-xing (福星, the God of Happiness, usually with a boy in his arm, nowadays with some ‘certificates’ instead)

 

Ménshén (門神, Door Gods / Deities). They are believed to keep evil spirits from entering the doors.
Mén shén (門神, Door Gods / Door Deities). They are believed to keep evil spirits from entering the doors.

 

 

Hanging bat (蝙蝠 (bian fu) which is homophonic with 變福 which means “becoming prosperous” or “turning into blessings”.
Hanging bat (蝙蝠 (bian fu) which is homophonic with 變福 which means “becoming prosperous” or “turning into blessings”.

 

Symbols of bats / fu (蝙蝠 / 福)
Symbols of bats / fu (蝙蝠 / 福)

 

Magpipe (喜雀) symbol translates into the bird of joy. It is believed that when the Magpie nests in your house, it brings much cause for celebration and many happy occasions.
Magpipe (喜雀, the bird of joy). It is believed that when the magpie nests in your house, it brings much cause for celebration and many happy occasions.

 

Promegranate (石榴) symbolizes fertility; this fruit is full of seeds. The word for seed is zi, it is also the word for sons.
Promegranate (石榴) symbolizes fertility; this fruit is full of seeds. The word for seed is zi (子), it is also the word for sons.

 

Goldfish (金魚) symbolizes the abundance of gold. It brings both wealth and harmony.
Goldfish (金魚) symbolizes the abundance of gold. It brings both wealth and harmony.

 

Phoenix (鳳凰) is a legendary bird which is synonymous with good fortune, opportunity, and elegance.
Phoenix (鳳凰) is a legendary bird which is synonymous with good fortune, opportunity, and elegance

 

Crane is the ancient symbol for longevity because of its exceptionally long life span. In many legends, the spirits ride on cranes.
Crane (鹤) is the ancient symbol for longevity because of its exceptionally long life span. In many legends, the spirits ride on cranes.

 

Lastly I would like to mention a Deity called Zao-jun (灶君, The Kitchen God / The Stove Deity). It is believed that on the 23rd day of the twelfth lunar month, just before CNY, the deity returns to Heaven to report the activities of every household over the past year to the Jade Emperor (玉皇大帝, Yu Huang). The Jade Emperor, emperor of the heavens, either rewards or punishes a family based on Zao-jun’s yearly report. Traditionally, every Chinese household would have a paper effigy or a plaque of Zao-jun. Offerings of food and incense are made to Zao-jun. Preparations for CNY begin on the 23rd day of the twelfth lunar month.

Deity of Hearth (灶君)
Zao-jun (灶君, Deity of Hearth)

 

I talked about CNY folklore and the symbols for good luck. I do not have any intention to encourage people to be superstitious. In my opinion, being generous to others, we can let go of our own unhappiness. Then we will enjoy the peace of mind and bring good health and happiness to our loved ones.

May Our Lord bless you and keep you always.

願神賜福您和您的家人, 新年長樂, 福壽咸增。

 

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5 thoughts on “Chinese New Year custom (農曆新年習俗)

  1. Hi Patrick

    That was amazing work. Thank you so much for reminding me the customs and traditions.
    I truly enjoyed reading them and I am sure my Australian friends would also appreciate
    a good readings!

    What an appropriate time to send it to your loved ones and friends!

    Vickie

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It is a marvellous and fantastic webpage. Your webpages always promote our knowledge. We learn lots of Chinese culture, customs and brushworks. It is worthwhile to pass the information and traditions to our young generations, in particular, for those who born overseas.
    Many thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Patrick

    Thank you for your informative research and it is very enjoyable reading about the traditional practices relating to CNY, presented in such a friendly and fun way.

    Amazing that these customs have been passed down for thousands of years.

    Liked by 1 person

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