Chinese New Year - 15-day celebration
Chinese New Year is like Christmas; family gatherings become a focal point during the festivities. Let's take a look at what typically happens during Chinese New Year, and why it's a 15-day celebration.
Preparations for Chinese New Year can begin up to a month ahead, and typically includes food preparation plus decorating the home with calligraphy (huichun) and the colour red.
New Year's Eve
The New Year Eve's dinner is the biggest of the year, much like Thanksgiving dinner. The foods are highly symbolic, e.g. Chinese dumplings imply wealth since they resemble ancient Chinese gold or silver ingots.
Read about the interesting Chinese New Year foods and what they symbolise.
'Gong xi fa chai' (Mandarin) or 'gong hey fat choy' (Cantonese) is the phrase to say during Chinese New Year. It means 'happy new year'. It's much like saying 'Merry Christmas'.
Firecrackers & lion dances
Traditionally, firecrackers are set off as soon as the new year arrives, but due to widespread bans around the world, CNY firecracker displays have become a rare occurence. A couple of Jackie Chan's early kung fu films offer an excellent insight into what it's like to experience the exciting and dizzying combination of lion dances and double-happies going off at the same time.
The red packet is a small red envelope with money in it symbolising wealth and good luck. It's quite well-known that during Chinese New Year these are handed out to the young ones by their parents, grandparents, relatives as well as close friends and neighbours. Kids love red packets!
A festival of bright and beautiful lanterns marks the end of Chinese New Year. The Chinese celebrate the first full moon of the year on this day and there’s one more gathering for some families. Yuanxiao, a kind of cake resembling a table tennis ball made of sticky rice with sweet stuffing, is eaten to ensure the family ‘sticks together’.
Fifteen days of celebration
Day 1 – Welcoming of the gods of the heavens and earth. Many people abstain from meat on the first day of the new year; it is believed that this will ensure long and happy lives for them.
Day 2 – The Chinese pray to their ancestors as well as to all the gods. They are extra kind to dogs and feed them well; it is believed that the second day is the birthday of all dogs.
Days 3 and 4 – The men pay respect to their in-laws.
Day 5 (called Po Woo) – The Chinese stay home to welcome the God of Wealth. No one visits families and friends as this will bring bad luck to both parties!
Days 6 to 10 – The Chinese visit family and friends, plus make a trip to the temple and pray for health and good fortune.
Day 7 – A special day for farmers to display their produce and celebrate with a drink made from seven types of vegetables. The seventh day is also considered the birthday of human beings. Noodles are eaten to promote longevity, and raw fish for success.
Day 8 or 9 – The Fujian (aka ‘Hokkien’ or ‘Fukien’ depending on your dialect) people have another family dinner, and at midnight they thank and pray to ‘Tien Gong’, the God of Heaven.
Day 10 to 12 – Family and friends are invited over for dinner.
Days 14 and 15 – Celebrate the Lantern Festival.
** Check out Wikipedia’s comprehensive article about Chinese New Year.