Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is one of the biggest holidays in China. Each new year follows the lunar calendar and typically falls between late January and mid-February. This year, we celebrate Chinese New Year on January 25th, which marks the new moon. 2020 is also when we welcome the year of the rat, according to the Chinese zodiac.
Being Chinese-American, I’ve always celebrated both new year holidays, American and Chinese. While American New Year is typically filled with the anticipation of New Year’s Eve celebrations, Chinese New Year is wrapped in several traditions and a lot of symbolism. In Asian countries that observe Chinese New Year, it is the longest public holiday with a week off for annual family reunions. That means a lot of food and relatives!
Before welcoming family celebrations and gatherings, there are several traditions that we follow.
- Cleaning – It is important to clean the house before the new year to sweep away bad luck from the previous year. However, sweeping and cleaning after the new year may sweep away good luck, so it’s important to do so beforehand.
- Clothing – Red is symbolic of good fortune and joy. It appears during all celebrations, especially the New Year. Buying new clothes and wearing red on Chinese New Year is festive and meant for good luck.
- Gifts – Red envelopes (hong bao) and gifts are prepared for the holiday in anticipation of family reunions. It is custom to receive red envelopes from your relatives as a symbol of love and blessings. However, when you start earning and are married, it will be your turn to give to others. Be sure to always receive red envelopes with both hands as a sign of politeness.
- Decorations – Well wishes for prosperity and happiness are printed on small banners (chun lian) and decorated around the home to welcome the new year, friends, and family.
- Food – Every family has special foods that they eat during the New Year celebration. The most common foods eaten are foods that symbolize and sound like fullness, wealth, and happiness. These are some common foods that we eat during Chinese New Year:
- Noodles – Due to their length, they symbolize longevity for each person’s life.
- Round fruits – Round fruits symbolize fullness due to their shapes, wealth due to their golden color, and luck and success because, when pronounced in Chinese, they sound like prosperity.
- Glutinous rice cake (nian gao) – The rice cake is sweet, and the pronunciation sounds like “improving or getting higher each year,” which is symbolic of more wealth and success in life.
No matter how you celebrate Chinese New Year, it is a special time for family, community, and togetherness. I’m happy to share a photo from my recent wedding celebration at a temple in Taiwan. This will be the first of many new years we celebrate as a married couple.
Wishing you health and happiness in the New Year!