Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve according to the Chinese lunar calender. It is also the first day of the 7 day Chinese public holiday marking the occasion. It is the time of chunyun – often called the largest annual human migration in the world -where most Chinese return home to visit with family over the holiday.
Those who do business in China know it mostly as a time of loud fireworks, red decorations, and an interruption to work. Manufacturers shut down for the holiday, and in country areas sometimes for longer (the Chinese celebrate several special days outside the official 7 day holiday).
I thought it would be fun to take a brief look at just a few of the many Chinese new year traditions that are so important to the people of this nation – traditions many of us are not overly familiar with.
Xiao Nian – a week before the new year
Xiaonian or “pre-New Year” is traditionally the time to make sacrifices to the Kitchen God – so that he will report favorably about a family’s conduct throughout the year past. Effigies and offerings are burned (it’s common to see people lighting piles of cardboard and paper items on the sidewalk around town). It also marks the beginning of a period of spring cleaning. Couplets are pasted on doorframes; houses are swept and tidied. The house will not be swept on New Year’s day so that the new good luck is not swept away.
Chu Xi – New Year’s Eve
Chu xi is the new year’s eve dinner – a time for family to gather in reunion. Fireworks are set off all night but particularly at midnight. Fish is a common dish to eat, due to the phrase 年年有餘 (nián nián yǒu yú) meaning to have plenty every year, in which the last character is a homophone with fish (魚). In the north (such as Langfang/Beijing, where we live) it is customary to make jiaozi (dumplings) together after dinner, to be eaten around midnight. Many families watch (or at least have on in the background) the 4 hour New Year Gala screened on CCTV every year since 1982.
Chu Yi – New Year’s Day
On New Year’s Day it is traditional to visit the oldest members of one’s family (parents, grandparents, even great-grandparents). Children greeting their elders are often given hongbao (red envelopes containing cash gifts). It is normal to bring gifts whenever you visit someone in their home – fruits (especially mandarins but never pears), nuts, and sweets are common. Temple fairs are open and are visited throughout the new year week. Fireworks continue to be set off.
Chu Er – the second day
The second day of the new year is traditionally the time for married daughters to visit their birth family (new year’s eve/day being spent with their married family).
Chu San – the third day
This is traditionally a “bad luck” day for visiting with friends and family. Perhaps this is a welcome break after several days of festivities!
Po Wu – the fifth day
In the north it is common to eat jiaozi in the morning. This is another big day for fireworks. I’m told this is because the 5th of the new year is celebrated as the birthday of the traditional god of wealth, but for most people it seems to be just the thing to do!
Ren Ri – the seventh day
Renri means “every man’s birthday” and is the day where the entire population grows a year older (this leads to differences in the calculation of age between cultures). It is also the last day of the official public holiday.
The eighth day
Back to work! This is the first work day of the new year. Many people also celebrate a family dinner on this night.
Yuan Xiao Jie – Lantern Festival
This happens on the 15th day of the new year and is the official end of Chinese new year celebrations. It is traditional to eat tangyuan - glutinous rice balls with sweet fillings cooked in a light soup. In fact, many restaurants will serve tangyuan after the meal to all customers on this day. Candles and lanterns are lit outside homes and just about anywhere. It’s common to see paper lanterns lit with candles take off into the night sky. This is also the last major day for fireworks.
Happy New Year!
May the Year of the Rabbit be a healthy and prosperous one for you, both personally and professionally.