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10 Chinese New Year Traditions We Can All Celebrate

Chinese New Year customs can bring a welcome sense of renewal to a seemingly endless winter.

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Happy New Year!

Chinese culture is filled with holidays and celebrations, and among them, the Lunar New Year is the 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. January 25, 2020, marks the first day of the Year of the Rat, but before you throw yourself into celebrating, observe these rituals to usher in a successful year. Here are some other things you probably never knew about the Chinese New Year.

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Set off fireworks

During the Chinese New Year, fireworks are set off at 12am to drive away evil and celebrate the coming of the new year. It is said that whoever sets of the first firework will have good luck. Read up on the history behind Chinese New Year.

Potted plant orchidVideowokart/Shutterstock

Visit an open-air market

In China, markets sell decorations, red packets, trinkets, food, fireworks, and art ahead of the New Year. Visit one to stock up on goods to celebrate. Some markets will carry flowers, particularly orchids and peonies since those are considered auspicious.

Plastic bucket with cleaning supplies on wood backgroundSergey Mironov/Shutterstock

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. We recommend these expert-approved organizing hacks to get you started.

Hand holding Chinese Yuan Note (rmb or renminbi) with pay2p2play/Shutterstock

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.

Hairdresser cut hair of a woman. Close-up. MilanMarkovic78/Shutterstock

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.

Slices of orange wooden bowl on wooden table. Top view. Tonedalgae/Shutterstock

… 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. Learn more lucky New Year’s traditions from around the world.

Dinner with friends at the table. View from above. Chinese food with chopsticks. fish, meat, pork, potatoes.Liudmila Kotvitckaia/Shutterstock

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.

Chinese New Year concept. Red envelope (ang pao), mandarin oranges and flower on a wooden table.Coompia77/Shutterstock

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 $2, can be deposited into mobile payment accounts. By the way, here’s why red is the official color of Chinese New Year.

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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 all 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. Don’t miss these 13 lucky New Year’s Eve food traditions.

Portrait of happy young business woman with mug in hands drinking coffee in the morning at restaurantMakistock/Shutterstock

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. Find out what 2020 has in store for you, according to your Chinese zodiac sign.