To mark Chinese New Year 2019, we're going to explore some of the most popular traditions associated with this huge celebration.
Chinese New Year, you may also hear it being called Chunjie (春节), or Spring Festival. It is the most important holiday in China, celebrated by more than 20% of the world population. Because the Spring Festival follows the lunar calendar, countries like North and South Korea, and Vietnam celebrate it as well, so you can also call it the Lunar New Year.
With Chinese New Year celebrations taking place all over Dubai this week, I thought I would share with you 10 things that people commonly do during the Spring Festival. If you know more than 5 of them, you might be mistaken for an expert of Chinese culture, and even win the trust of your Chinese friends!
- Cleaning the house
Chinese people clean their houses before the New Year. So does everyone in preparation for a big cultural feast. But what is more interesting here is that, during the first three days of the Spring Festival, sweeping and throwing garbage isn’t allowed. This is to avoid the "wealth and fortune" flowing away.
- Decorating everything in red
Red is good luck in Chinese culture, and in China nearly all New Year decorations are red!
During the Spring Festival, every household sticks red couplets on their doors, called “chunlian” (Spring Festival couplets春联). Chunlian should be stuck before noon. This action is known as "seal or close the door".
In addition to putting up red couplets, people also hang up red lanterns, post lucky words, stick portraits of door gods and out up red cut-up paper decorations on windows. Many people will also hang the word "福"(fortune), which means "blessing comes".
In addition to the red decorations, new clothes are also believed to bring good luck and a fresh start. People will buy new red clothes to add to their wardrobes, too.
For Chinese, red decorations do not only mean good luck, but also add cheer to the New Year atmosphere and make people feel happy.
- Families gathering together and having dinner on New Year’s Eve
The most important part of Spring Festival is reunion. No matter how far away people are, everyone comes back home at this time to share a New Year’s Eve dinner and celebrate the reunion with their families.
Today, since the majority of young people work in big cities, while their parents live in rural villages, the migration back home is called chunyun (春运), or Spring Migration. :)
The annual Spring Festival mad rush sees the largest human migration in the world. As the Spring Festival is the longest holiday in China, people luckily have enough time to travel back to their hometown and spend time with families.
Interestingly, in recent years, a new phenomenon has emerged: renting a boyfriend or a girlfriend to take home for the Spring Festival!! This is because, during family gatherings, young people are more and more often asked the "nightmare question” by their relatives and friends!
- Watching the Spring Festival Gala
Spring Festival Gala, usually referred to as "chunwan"(春晚), is a special entertainment TV show shown on China Central Television (CCTV) every year on Chinese New Year’s Eve, featuring music, dance, comedy, and drama performances.
The gala is the most-watched entertainment program in the world, recognized by the Guinness World Records.
Since the first Spring Festival Gala was held in 1983, sitting together and watching the Spring Festival Gala while having dinner on New Year’s Eve has become a new tradition for Chinese families and Chinese citizens living overseas.
- Eating dumplings
There is no doubt that there are plenty of delicious Chinese foods on the dining table during Spring Festival. But there is a special kind that people eat almost at every meal - “Jiaozi” (dumpling饺子). Most families serve it on New Year’s Eve, or make it as their first breakfast in the new year.
- Children receive lucky money in a red packet
Chinese children receive a special gift during the Spring Festival - a red envelope. Receiving hongbao (红包) becomes the most exciting moment of the year for children.
The giving of money is meant to help transfer fortune from elders to kids. Money may also be given by bosses to employees, co-workers, and friends.
With the development of technology, digital red packets are the new trend now. People like to send them in group chats and watch the others fight for the money. This is called qiang hongbao (抢红包), or literally “snatching red packets”.
- Staying up all night on New Year's Eve
The New Year’s Eve vigil is also known as “Shousui”(守岁). It is customary that people do not sleep on the last night of the old year and stay up to greet the first morning of the New Year.
Traditionally, Shousui has two reasons: for elders, it is to cherish time; for the young, it is to extend the life of their parents.
Every New Year’s Eve, men and women, young and old, will keep the house brightly lit and stay up all night.
- Setting off fireworks at night
Setting off fireworks is a crucial part for the celebrations of the Spring Festival.
There is an interesting myth about this tradition. Once upon a time, there was a monster called Nian. It showed up every year on New Year’s Eve. But one brave boy fought against Nian and drove it away with firecrackers. The next day, people set off more firecrackers to celebrate the boy’s survival. From then on, it has become an important and fun traditional practice during the Spring Festival. Every New Year's Eve, you can hear the sound of firecrackers and fireworks throughout the night in the city.
- Ancestor homage
On the same night, families also burn fake paper money and printed gold bars in honor of their deceased loved ones. It is believed that the offerings will bring fortune and good luck to their ancestors in the afterlife.
- Greetings to each other
When the first day of new year comes, the traditional custom is for people to start visiting relatives and friends. Expressing good wishes to each other is a way for people to say goodbye to the past and welcome the new year.
In modern China, more people are choosing to send messages through social media. Sending the digital red packets is another way to greet relatives and friends on the new year.