8 Chinese New Year Traditions We Can All Celebrate
Chinese New Year customs can bring a welcome sense of renewal to a seemingly endless winter.
Chinese culture is filled with holidays and celebrations, and among them, the Lunar New Year is the very biggest. In China and Taiwan, offices and schools close for a week, and more than 3.5 billion people—in the world’s largest human migration!—are expected to travel so they can ring in the occasion with their loved ones. February 8, 2016, marks the first day of the Year of the Monkey, but before you throw yourself into celebrating, observe these rituals to usher in a successful year.
1. Clean up
Scrub every nook and crevice of your home to rid yourself of the detritus and bad mojo of the previous year—think of it as a very early spring cleaning. You must complete your work by New Year’s Day, and then stow away your broom, mop, vacuum, and Swiffer. Because if you wield these tools on the first few days of the New Year, you’ll sweep or suck away your good fortune.
2. Put your financial house in order, too
If you borrowed money from family or friends last year, pay them back before the start of the New Year; any outstanding loans will bring you misfortune. The same goes for unresolved arguments or grudges, so make nice.
3. Beautify yourself …
A haircut and a new outfit—red is the most auspicious hue, but if it isn’t your color, just be sure to stay away from the unlucky shades of black and white—are must-haves for New Year’s Day. As with cleaning, trimming your hair in the first days of the New Year will result in snipping away good fortune so groom accordingly. This year, find out what “Auld Lang Syne” actually means.
4. … And your home
Decorate your clean, sparkling house with a bowl of oranges or apples, or with live plants (avoid white flowers; they’re associated with funerals). It’s also customary to hang up signs with Chinese sayings and the character fu, which means good luck. But if you choose the latter, display them upside down; this signifies that success is coming.
5. Feast with your family
The most important night for getting together is New Year’s Eve. That’s when you gather with your nearest and dearest for dinner, eating prosperity-begetting dishes like fish (always served whole), dumplings (prized because they’re shaped like gold or silver ingots), and sticky rice cakes. Because New Year’s is a time when young adults are expected to bring home their significant others for inspection, in the past few years a burgeoning industry of boyfriends and girlfriends that you can rent for the holiday has sprung up in China.
6. Be a giver
According to tradition, hong bao—or red envelopes—containing a significant amount of money are presented to children, unmarried adults, and seniors on New Year’s Eve. But technology has blown the custom wide open, and now people of all ages and relationships both send and receive their hong bao via text message. The funds, often as little as US $2, can be deposited into mobile payment accounts.
7. Get out there
While New Year’s Eve is reserved for those you’re closest to, the rest of the holiday is devoted to connecting with your next-level loved ones. Always bring a gift—tea, fruit, pastries, or candy are good choices—on your social calls, but under no circumstances should you give four of anything (for example, four canisters of lapsang souchong). In Mandarin Chinese, “four” is a homonym for death.
8. Set a positive tone for the year
According to Chinese superstition, whatever you do during the New Year’s period will characterize the 12 months to follow. So no crying, no arguing, and no borrowing money for the first two weeks, unless that’s how you were hoping to spend your days.