In honor of Chinese New Year, which is today, I’m dedicating this post entirely to a discussion of Chinese New Year traditions, culture, and most importantly, FOOD! That being said, here are the most important things you need to know about Chinese New Year:
1) When is Chinese New Year?
This year, Chinese New Year falls on January 31. Because this holiday is always celebrated on the first day of the Chinese lunar calendar, its date in the Western calendar changes every year. It is quite early this year; usually, it is celebrated in the early spring and is often called the “Spring Festival” (春节 － Chun jie).
2) How do you wish someone Happy New Year in Chinese?
Happy New Year! = 新年快乐 (Xin nian kuai le)
Happy Spring Festival! = 春节快乐 (Chun jie kuai le)
…and, if you want to be really authentic, you can say…
May you have a prosperous New Year! = 恭喜发财 (Gong xi fa cai)
In case any of the non-Chinese speakers are wondering about pronunciation, click here.
3) What do Chinese people do to celebrate Lunar New Year?
Lunar New Year is China’s most important holiday. People get time off from work and school and return home to spend the holiday with their families (equivalent in that sense to Christmas in the West). Check out CNN’s article about a really cool moving map depicting travel in China during the holiday.
Fireworks are a really huge part of celebrating Chinese New Year. I have never actually been in China during the holiday, but I once heard someone say that if you’re in Beijing during the Spring Festival, it sounds like a war-zone due to the constant explosions of firecrackers!
During the New Year Festival, elder or married Chinese people give red envelopes of money to younger, unmarried people and children. These are called 红包 (hong bao), and they can contain anything from a few dollars to a couple hundred (depending on the income level of your social circle). Since the numbers eight and six are considered very lucky in China, it is very common to see these amounts in the envelopes. These envelopes come in many varieties, but they are always red. Here’s what they look like:
I am partial to the Hello Kitty one 🙂
Chinese people also celebrate the New Year by preparing special dumplings (饺子 – jiao zi). Although this is a special Spring Festival tradition, dumplings are available throughout the year as well. When I was in China, I would eat them for lunch at my school’s cafeteria for about $1.50! I’m a vegetarian, so I’ve never had the really special ones filled with pork or seafood, but I can attest that the boiled or steamed cilantro filled ones are absolutely delicious. I used to dip them in a vinegary soy sauce with chili and extra cilantro on top. YUM!
4) How is the Chinese Zodiac related to the holiday?
As you may or may not know, 2014 is the Year of the Horse or, in Chinese: 马 (ma). There are twelve Chinese zodiac animals, each one is associated with different years, so all babies born this year will be associated with the horse zodiac. Each zodiac has different personality traits and characteristics, and you can determine what zodiac you are by clicking here. For example, horses are very outgoing, animated, and optimistic.
If you’re a snake (like me), then you’re intelligent, materialistic, cunning, and analytical! (Hmm…. sounds good to me except the “materialistic” part)! You can find out more about each of the zodiac signs here. Just remember, Chinese culture does put a lot of stock into these, so even if you think that your zodiac doesn’t suit you at all, it is good to know which animal you are!
On that note, I hope you all enjoy 2014, Year of the Horse! 恭喜发财！