Eight things you need to know about Chinese New Year wrapped up in a shiny red envelope!
‘Xin Nian Kuai Le!’ Best of luck for the coming year! From fascinating superstitions and legends to symbolic dishes, Chinese New Year has an incredible array of unique and inspiring practices and traditions. Discover them all here with these 8 things you need to know about Chinese New Year.
WHAT IS CHINESE NEW YEAR?
Also known as Spring Festival, Chinese New Year heralds the arrival of the new Lunar Year and is the most important date on the Chinese calendar. Each year is represented by one of 12 animals, which feature as part of the Chinese Zodiac. In short, Chinese New Year is about two things: families and feasting. It’s a time of reunion that sees the largest annual mass migration of people travelling home to be with their loved ones. Over the course of Chinese New Year families prepare and enjoy long meals, honouring their ancestors and deities alike.
WHEN IS CHINESE NEW YEAR?
Unlike the Western New Year that begins on 1st January each year, Chinese New Year’s date is different each year due to it being based on lunar cycles. This year it falls on 16th February and welcomes the arrival of the Year of the Dog. Read our guide to the Chinese Zodiac here [INSERT LINK]. Based on the complex Lunar Calendar, Chinese New Year is held on the arrival of the first new moon between the 21st January and the 20th February.
HOW LONG IS CHINESE NEW YEAR?
Rather than just being one night long party, the lucky Chinese see a whopping 15 days of celebrations and 7 days’ public holiday.
WHAT ARE CHINESE NEW YEAR CUSTOMS?
Firecrackers – Harking back to the legend of Nian, these noisy party-starters are set off in front of houses and shops to ward off evil, and of course, create quite a bang! At the stroke of midnight, families will rush outdoors to let them off.
Red…everything! – You’ll find red everywhere in China at New Year; pretty paper lanterns, banners, clothing and the iconic red envelopes. A colour signifying good luck, prosperity and vitality, red is very significant. Red envelopes (hongbao) will be stuffed with money given by older family members to younger ones.
An a mighty clean – Thoroughly cleansing the house in preparation for Chinese New Year isn’t just for making it nice for friends and family. Chinese families will carefully scrub their homes from top to bottom to sweep away the bad luck from the previous year.
Market madness – Colourful markets pop up everywhere as Chinese New Year approaches. Decorations, red envelopes, gifts, trinkets and flowers can be bought.
THE LEGEND OF CHINESE NEW YEAR
The fabled legends of Chinese New Year vary from storyteller to storyteller. Whilst the exact origins have been lost deep in the mists of ancient Chinese history, all myths include an evil monster called Nian, also the Chinese word for ‘year’.
Thousands of years ago, Nian would terrorise villagers until the village’s wise man advised them to scare the beast away with drumming and firecrackers since Nian hated loud noise and the colour red. The villagers triumphed and banished Nian for good.
Each year, the anniversary of Nian’s vanquishing, was recognised as ‘guo nian’ or the ‘passing of the year’, and thus, Chinese New Year came into being.
WHAT IS EATEN AT CHINESE NEW YEAR?
Like almost every aspect of Chinese culture, there is great significance and symbolism with dishes and delicacies consumed at Chinese New Year. Feasting with your family is the order of the day and family members will travel from all over the world to return home to China to be around the dinner table with their relatives. Two billion journeys are made, in fact! Here’s a breakdown of different dishes eaten by region.
North China – Jiaozi
With its crescent-shape resembling a gold ingot, the jiaozi dumpling symbolises good fortune. Families often make them together, and sometimes a coin will be added to the stuffing. The lucky recipient that bites said coin is considered especially fortunate in the coming year. Although Jiaozi originated in the north China where wheat produce is abundant, now everywhere in China Jiaozi can be found on Chinese New Year’s tables.
Yangtze River Delta – Bean Sprouts
These are a must-eat for families living in and around the Yangtze River Delta. When pronounced, the two words sound alike “promotion” and “wealth”. More importantly, bean sprouts are only available in Spring. So by serving them it’s a sign that Spring is in town!
Guangdong – Poon Choi
A vast casserole served up in a giant dish, poon choi is a communal dish eaten with the whole family. Because of its gigantic size and the amount of food, it symbolises an abundant incoming year without hunger or worry.
Sichuan and Hunan – La Rou
Deliciously smoked and cured pork belly, la rou is popular in Southwest China where winter is humid and cold. In the past, little food can survive that period without going off, so la rou was conceived to last the long season. At Chinese New Year it’s served in thin slices, often fried with garlic shoots.
Fujian – Longevity Noodles
Noodles are a staple of all Chinese diets, but at Chinese New Year they get a little bit, well, longer! Longevity noodles are considered the key to a long and healthy life, particularly in Fujijan. It’s bad luck to break them so great care is taken when eating the noodles.
Sha’anxi (Xi’an) – Zheng Wan
In the Sha’anxi Province whose capital is Xi’an, zheng wan (steamed bowls) is a special Chinese New Year dish. It includes an assortment of bowls featuring different steamed meats like pork belly, marinated chicken, crispy pork and meatballs. Eaten with buns, zheng wan is a typical food signifying the family reunion.
GIFTING AT CHINESE NEW YEAR
Much like Christmas, families and friends exchange gifts together at Chinese New Year. Unlike the Western Yuletide celebrations however, there are rules to abide by when it comes to gifting. Under no circumstances should clocks be given, as the Chinese pronunciation sounds like ‘death’, which is bad luck. Also banned are shoes, the word for these sounds like ‘evil’, which symbolises leaving. Finally, giving umbrellas is forbidden as the pronunciation is similar to ‘break up’ – another bad omen!
HOW TO CELEBRATE CHINESE NEW YEAR IN LONDON
You can be part of the action this Chinese New Year by joining the colourful celebrations in and around Chinatown London. The biggest Chinese New Year celebration outside of China, you can expect an electric carnival atmosphere with lively parades, martial arts displays, immersive family experiences and – of course – delicious street food galore! The celebrations kick off from 10am on Sunday 18th February, read our full guide to the day here.< Go Back To Chinese New Year