Most people are familiar with the famous Chinese New Year holiday, but few people actually know about some of the fascinating Chinese New Year Traditions that are associated with this important time of year. After living and working as English teachers in China, many are surprised to discover the details of some of these unique traditions that date back to times so long ago. And yet, many of of these traditions are very much still alive in Chinese culture today.
Why Are Firecrackers Everywhere During Chinese New Year?
Firecrackers are one of the most fun (and loud) traditions during the Chinese New Year. Leading up to (and even after) the holiday you will hear the echoes of firecrackers throughout cities and neighborhoods during this festive season. It is believed that the more noise you make, the more you will ward off the evil spirits for the coming year.
In particular, there is the ancient story of “Nian” – a monster who terrorized a village until someone realized that the firecrackers would scare him away. All ages take part in this Chinese New Year tradition.
Visiting Family and Friends during Chinese New Year to Express Good Wishes
Visiting family and friends is a big tradition during the Chinese New Year. Known to many as “The Great Migration,” millions of Chinese working in the big cities will travel hours (or days) out into the countryside to visit their family and friends back in their hometowns.
It is tradition to express good wishes to friends and family for the upcoming year, but in the older days, young people would “kowtow” – a way of bowing to the ground in an ultimate salute to the elderly. In response, the elderly would give envelopes with money to the younger generation.
Stay Up Late, for the Sake of Your Parents on Chinese New Year!
Who doesn’t like staying up late to ring in the New Year when you are a kid?!? In China, letting the kids in the house stay up until midnight on the night of the New Year, a tradition is called Shou Sui. It is believed that the kids staying up until midnight will increase longevity for the parents.
Red Decorations for Chinese New Year Everywhere You Look
Another big Chinese New Year tradition is decorating your house with RED. It is custom to decorate your doors and windows into your house or apartment with red lanterns, banners, and have blooming flowers as well. This tradition is done usually after another tradition is completed, spring cleaning.
A Clean House Before the Chinese New Year
Spring cleaning is an important tradition leading up to the Chinese New Year. Before the holiday begins, deep cleaning throughout the house signifies removing the old welcoming the new. Lots of Chinese people will focus on all the rooms of the house, cleaning it thoroughly. They may also get rid of old things they don’t need, and make sure everything is fresh and in order prior to the holiday beginning.
Chinese New Year is a Time for Family & Food
The family reunion dinner during Chinese New Year is one of the most important meals for all Chinese people, including those living outside of China. Each meal consists of different dishes, depending on the region the family is from. One of the most common meals will include some type of dumpling. Since dumplings are time consuming to make, often family members will spend the day together cooking, so that they can make lots of dumplings for every to share (keeping with the “family-style” dining traditions in China where everyone shares large dishes).
Be careful when biting into New Years dumplings, some might include a whole spicy pepper or clover of garlic, which have been hidden like a little game. For the person who finds it, it symbolizes good luck for them in the coming year.
Mandarin Oranges in the South of China for Good Luck
If you are in the south part of China, near Hong Kong and Macau, you will see a Cantonese tradition for New Years that involves mandarin oranges. Chinese tradition likes things to be in pairs, so often mandarin oranges (or clementines) are given in pairs for good luck. Another extension of this tradition that you will see a lot in the southern parts of China includes clementine orange trees that are placed in pairs outside the front doors of houses and businesses.
So wherever you go in southern China around January / February, you will see these miniature orange trees all over town framing doorways.
Giving and Receiving Lucky Money for Chinese New Year
Who doesn’t like to receive a gift of money? One Chinese New Year tradition that you will see all over China includes the exchanging of red packets / envelopes that contain money. If you are young (or older and single), then you will receive “Lucky Money” from others – mostly from family elders, married couples, and perhaps even friends and employers.
The tradition is to give fresh, crisp bills in small red envelopes or packets – but with the digital age, there is also a way to use China’s social media “WeChat” to exchange virtual lucky money that you can transfer to your bank or keep in your virtual wallet to pay for things with your phone (as is quite popular in China). Sadly, once you are married then you typically no longer receive lucky money for this holiday. This is why many engaged couples will postpone their wedding dates until just after the Chinese New Year – so they can save up with one last gift of lucky money before they are married!!
Praying in a Chinese Temple during Chinese New Year
Another important Chinese New Year tradition is to visit a local temple pray for good luck and or good fortune in the coming New Year. Many Chinese people will flock to their local family temples to pray together. This is a colorful and fascinating time for visitors to China, who can also visit some of the most popular temples to witness the beautiful decorations and rituals.
More Interesting Chinese New Year Superstitions
There are a lot of traditions and superstitions in China, but especially during the Chinese New Year holiday. For example, even though you should clean your home before the holiday, you should NOT do any clean — or sweeping during the New Year celebration. It is considered that you could sweep away your new luck or good fortune!
It is also important if you can clear off your debts before the Chinese New Year (if possible), and you should not loan other people money during the Chinese New Year festivities. Lastly, another fascinating tradition about Chinese New Year is that you should not cut your hair or wash your hair on the very first day of the New Year. Again, it is seen that you may be cutting off or washing out your luck. Typically, people will wait until a couple weeks after the holiday to cut their hair — so around this time, you will see lots of busy hair salons around China.
There are so many fascinating Chinese New Year traditions – actually far more than just these! However, working and living in China gives the opportunity for other people outside of China to experience this rich culture and many of these interesting traditions. Being in China during the Chinese New Year is a great time to experience the celebration and perhaps even take part in some of these wonderful traditions.