Blog Culture

Chinese New Year Traditions — How Much Do You Know

In my post: How My Family Celebrated Chinese New Year, I talked about how ordinary people like my family celebrated Chinese new year.

In this post, I will talk about what are general Chinese new year traditions. At the same time, as usual, we will learn some Chinese characters related with this topic.

From my last post: How My Family Celebrated Chinese New Year, I mentioned some of new year traditions such as spring cleaning, house decoration, family reunion dinner and staying up late on the eve of new year.

Beside these traditions, there are some more new year traditions followed by Chinese people in many areas. By the way, different areas and nations might have their own new year traditions.

On the below list are new year traditions that are popular in most of Chinese speaking areas.

1,  New year eve dinner (年夜饭) (nian2 ye4 fan4), it is also called family reunion dinner (团圆饭) (tuan2 yuan2 fan4).

To Chinese, family reunion dinner is very important. No matter how far we are, we will always try to go back home before the reunion dinner starts, so we could enjoy the dinner with our family and celebrate new year together.

2, New year spring cleaning and decoration.

The reason behind the cleaning and decoration is called: 除旧迎新 (chu2 jiu4 ying2 xin1), it means: get rid of something old and welcome something new.

对联 (dui4 lian2) (couplets), 年画 (nian2 hua4) (new year pictures), 福字 (fu2 zi4) (luck character) and 剪纸 (jian3 zhi3) (Chinese paper cutting) are commonly used for the house decoration.

To celebrate new year, Chinese people also buy new clothes for the new year holiday. Usually, we wear red clothes because we believe red will bring us good luck.

3, Staying up late on eve of new year (守岁) (shou3 sui4).

About this tradition, there is a folktale.

It says long long time ago, there was a beast called (nian2) (year). This beast always came out to eat animals and people at some specific time.

Later, people found the way to scare the beast away. When the beast came, people put the red couplets on the front doors, lit the firecrackers to make noises and had the light in the house, so the beast ran away.

However, in case the beast would come back, people stayed together in the house staying up late chatting or playing games to make sure everything was fine.

4,  Giving red envelops (发红包) (fa1 hong2 bao1).

The money in the red envelops given to children by the senior people is called: 压岁钱 (ya1 sui4 qian2).  

压 means press, 岁 means age, 钱 means money. It is a good wish from the parents and senior people that they wish the money will bring good luck to children.

Except giving red envelops to children, people also give red envelops to others to show the appreciation.

In case you might not know, nowadays it is very popular to give red envelops online.

If you have the free wechat App on your cell phone and you joined one group, the big chance is, you might see a lot of people give red envelops online these days.

Once the electronic red envelop appears on the screen, every one tries to click on it, only the one who acts fastest can get the money.

Sometimes the sender will set up a number, for example, 4, then the first 4 people who clicked on the red envelop will get the money.

 5, Setting off firecrackers (放鞭炮) (fang4 bian1 pao4) and lighting fireworks (点烟火) (dian3 yan1 huo3).

A new year without firecrackers and firework is not a typical Chinese new year.

Before the new year family reunion dinner, setting off firecrackers is a must action.

After the dinner, it is fun family time to light fireworks.

Usually, the fireworks is safe to play. We can hold the small stick of firework and see the small colorful firework coming out with slight zzz sound in the dark.

6, New year greetings (拜年) (bai4 nian2).

Not all family can get together, let alone it is impossible to have extended family members and other friends to be together.

So Chinese people has the tradition to greet distant relatives (远亲) (yuan3 qin1) and friends by calling or sending them new year wish messages to wish every one a happy new year.

Besides phone calls and mobile messages,  new year is also the time to visit relatives.

I remember, when I was little, I and my siblings were often assigned the job and went together to visit our relatives living far away.

We brought new year gifts and stayed at the houses of different relatives. We spent some days playing with other cousins and enjoyed tasty food prepared by our grandparents, aunts and uncles.

It was very sweet memory when I look back.

7, Ancestors worship (祭拜祖先) (ji4 bai2 zu3 xian1).

New year holiday is the time to worship our ancestors. In some areas, there will be a very big party to have all of the offspring families together.

8, Temple Fairs (庙会) (miao4 hui4).

At the temple fairs, people enjoy kinds of traditional Chinese new year performances such as lion dances (舞狮) (wu3 shi1), dragon dances (舞龙) (wu3 long2) and local drama shows. People also get chances to taste local foods and buy stuffs.

9, Lantern Fairs (灯会) (deng1 hui4). 

Lantern festival (元宵节) (yuan2 xiao1 jie2) is the last day of Chinese new year celebration.

On this day, many towns and villages hold kinds of activities like lantern fairs to exhibit colorful different shapes of lanterns, at the same time, people participate riddle games.

If you like riddles,  here is a free printable for you:  Chinese Riddles.

On the below is a famous riddle. Do you get the answer? (Hint: read the post: Chinese Ancient Poem: Painting. )


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