8 Things You Need to Know About Chinese New Year

Posted on January 17, 2017 - Xīnnián kuàilè! Gōng xǐ fā cái!

That’s “Happy New Year” and “Happy Lunar New Year” in Mandarin. With the Chinese Lunar New Year right around the corner, you may want to brush up on your Mandarin phrases in preparation. What else do you need to know about the biggest holiday across Asia? Check out our eight essential facts about Chinese New Year below to find out why everyone is wearing red, what’s up with the rooster and how you can celebrate the Lunar New Year here in Vancouver!

When is Chinese New Year? Why isn’t it on January 1st?

Chinese New Year follows the Lunar calendar, which is different than the traditional Gregorian calendar used internationally. Years are not uniform in the Lunar calendar so the new year always falls between January 21st and February 20th. This year, Chinese New Year falls on January 28th. Chinese New Year was first set to act as a period of rest before a busy farming season and a time to wish for a good harvest in the upcoming year.

The Year of the Rooster

2017 is the year of the rooster. Roosters are said to be observant, hardworking, resourceful and very confident in themselves. Traditionally, if it’s your animal’s year, you’ll experience bad luck. So 2017 is set to be an unlucky year for roosters and they should be extra careful.

Not sure which Chinese zodiac animal you are? You can find your animal, and read more about what your animal says about you, here. The 12 Chinese zodiac animals were born out of an old Chinese folktale. In the story, the Emperor of the heavens ordered all of the animals on earth to compete in a race across a river. The top 12 finishers would earn places as guards of the Heavenly Gate, taking turns being on duty. The legend says that the cat overslept and missed the race, which is why there is no cat in the Chinese zodiac.

Chinese New Year is also called Lunar New Year

While it is popularly known as Chinese New Year, the celebration is actually called Lunar New Year and is celebrated in many countries besides China. Countries like Korea, Vietnam and Indonesia all celebrate the Lunar New Year. In fact, 1/5 of the world’s population celebrates the Lunar New Year as an official holiday. Because of the tradition to return home and visit relatives, the Lunar New Year period is the busiest travel season in the world.

How long is the celebration?

The official Chinese New Year holiday lasts one week from New Year’s Eve until Day 6 of the Lunar calendar. However, many traditionalists believe the holiday begins one week before New Year’s Day and ends on Day 15, also called the Lantern Festival. This period of time is known as the Spring Festival.

So what do people do for the month of celebration? In the week before New Year’s Day, many people are busy cleaning their homes in preparation for visitors and going shopping for food, decorations and new clothes. On New Year’s Eve, much like on December 31st, families visit with each other and stay up late to welcome the new year. On New Year’s Day, celebrants enjoy fireworks and spend the next weeks visiting friends and family. Finally, people attend the Lantern Festival to mark the end of the New Year celebrations by lighting lanterns and enjoying a meal together. This year, the Lantern Festival falls on February 11th.

What’s with the red envelopes?

Red envelopes, or hóngbāo in Mandarin, are a common sight around Chinese New Year. The packets are red, symbolizing happiness and good luck, and are filled with money. They are given out as New Year gifts to family members, children and employees. However, not everyone has to give out red envelopes. Customarily, if you are unmarried, you do not need to give out hóngbāo.

When giving a red envelope, it is tradition to put crisp new bills inside instead of coins. Avoid any denominations with the number four, as it is an unlucky number in Chinese culture. When receiving a red envelope, it’s important to accept it with both hands and keep it closed. It is considered rude to only use one hand to accept an envelope or to open the envelope in front of the person who gave it to you.

Chinese New Year taboos

As a very superstitious holiday, there are many things that celebrants avoid on Chinese New Year. Here are five things you shouldn’t do on New Year’s Day:

  • Don’t eat porridge or congee as it is a symbol of poverty and means you will start the year poor.
  • Don’t wash your hair or clothing because it will wash away good luck.
  • Don’t do any needlework as it depletes wealth.
  • Don’t say any unlucky words such as “death” or else it will summon those words into your year.
  • Don’t sweep or take out the garbage because it symbolizes sweeping away or dumping out your good luck.

Chinese New Year lucky foods

Just like taboos, Chinese New Year celebrants also believe that there are special foods you must eat at the New Year to encourage luck. Here are seven dishes that are traditonally eaten on Chinese New Year and what they symbolize:

  • Fish to increase prosperity
  • Dumplings and spring rolls to increase wealth
  • Sweet rice balls to increase family togetherness
  • Lucky fruit to increase fullness of life
  • Rice cakes to increase income or position
  • Long noodles to increase life and longevity

Celebrating Chinese New Year in Vancouver

Excited to celebrate Chinese New Year? Join your fellow Vancouverites at the Chinese Benevolent Association (CBA) of Vancouver‘s Lunar New Year events. The Chinatown Spring Festival Parade will be held on Sunday, January 29th featuring marching bands, dancing troupes and martial arts demonstrations. After the parade, catch traditional lion dances happening throughout Chinatown or head to Spring Festival Cultural Fair at the Sun Yat-Sen Plaza. The CBA is also hosting a Chinese New Year Banquet at the Floata Seafood Restaurant.

Happy Chinese Lunar New Year! How will you be ringing in the Year of the Rooster?

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