Finally, a Chinese New Year that is relatively relaxed and free from such stringent pandemic restrictions. We’ve gathered all the details and information that you might be looking for about this up-and-coming event.
This is not just a single day’s celebration. It covers more than a month wherein there is great care involved in preparing not just oneself but one’s own environment to say farewell to the past year, and remembrance of loved ones, next follows big bid goodbye to the past and welcome next year with gift-giving — finally ending in a dragon dance to conclude the festivities.
There will be a public holiday after this winter solstice and this would even mean that celebrations are going to be a blast!
Read on and may our guide bring you the luckiest year yet!
Preparation starts on the January 14 or Little Year
The Chinese New Year festivities are considered the most important of the year in the Chinese calendar. There are different rituals and celebrations to prepare for the coming lunar new year. It starts on January 14 or Little Year. This is the time when the whole family will do a very thorough house cleaning. The act of cleaning is also a symbol of sweeping away bad luck and thus, this is indeed a very engaging activity for the whole family. Everyone can join in and get the house cleared of any bad vibes.
Then comes Chinese New Year’s Eve on January 21
This is the time when it’s best to go and visit departed loved ones’ graves. This shows how ancestors are respected and remembered and how grateful are those who were left behind, too. All relatives are gathered on this day and a celebratory dinner will be accompanying this reunion. Red envelopes are given out as well and it is a tradition for the older ones to pass this to the younger ones. Coffee is flowing freely by midnight so everyone can stay awake and enjoy the fireworks and firecrackers to welcome in the first hours of the Chinese New Year!
Chinese New Year’s Day celebrations on January 22
On New Year’s Day itself, there are gifts being exchanged all around. The red envelopes from yesterday are outside of the gifts that one will be receiving or sending to relatives who have gathered together to welcome in 2023. More festive food will be served to bring in good luck for the entire year.
Dragon dance at the Lantern Festival to conclude the festivities by the 5th of February
The Chinese New Year celebrations conclude with everyone’s favourite fire dragon dances along with colourful lanterns lit to accompany the celebration. Some folks will be dressing to the nines wearing the lucky colour of the year or stick to the traditional red and gold colours to further attract good luck for the rest of the year. The fire dragon dances are traditionally done on the streets and they still are seen prominently here. Some are now also seen inside corporate buildings and malls, too.
What is upcoming for this year’s Chinese zodiac?
What’s in store for the year of the Water Rabbit? This spans January 22nd of 2023 to February 9th of 2024. The last time the Water Rabbit had its year was back in 1963. According to Chinese zodiac experts, the rabbit may not be the strongest animal sign but because of its charm, swiftness, and agility, good fortune has a lot in store especially when it comes to love, fertility, money, and success.
Renowned Chinese scientist turned psychic Sarah Yip shares, “The Water element will enhance our psychic ability, diplomacy, and negotiation skills. Expect major shifts in politics, as a new wave of leaders steps up. The answer to war isn’t peace. It’s creativity.” It seems to be harking changes in the political arena.
She also added the following tips to take advantage of the benefits of the Year of the Water Rabbit:
- Try going back on foregone dreams back in 2011. The new year is the right time to bring back some old passions.
- The practice of forgiveness must be given priority. This will be effective in bringing major good fortune and keeping evil spirits away this year.
- For it is a year of the Water element, it’s best to get yourselves into lots of water-related activities such as swimming, long baths or dip in hot springs. This will relax and heal both mind and soul best for 2023.
- It’s a year to double-check your diet but doesn’t go overboard on the carrots despite being the Year of the Rabbit. It’s best to have a variety of good vegetables throughout the year.
Lucky things to eat on Chinese New Year
Let’s go into one of the most interesting topics that folks are wanting to know and dive in right away. What are the lucky foods to eat and serve and cook for Chinese New Year? Here are the luckiest groups to include in your menu and complement the favourite dishes you’ll serve to your guests and relatives.
The fish symbolizes abundance. There should be at least one dish — a favourite is a sweet and sour fish — that should be one whole fish — for the Lunar New Year’s Day dinner.
Create dumplings that are shaped like Chinese silver ingots. Such dumplings symbolize family unit and prosperity.
These are also known as glutinous rice cakes. This represents higher income and position since its Chinese counterpart almost sounds like a ‘year high’.
Taboos during the actual Chinese New Year celebrations
The 40-day-long festivities are all focused on creating an environment free from any negativity. The act of cleaning up the house, and remembering loved ones who passed away in gratitude and respect point towards choosing good things to also invite the same with the coming new year.
Here are things to avoid to help celebrations get 2023 even luckier for everyone.
1. Avoid saying negative words. Words with negative connotations are forbidden — like death, sick, empty, pain, ghost, poor, break, kill and the like. This is to avoid jinxing yourself or bringing those misfortunes to you and your loved ones.
2. Do not break ceramics or glass. Breaking things will break your connection to prosperity and fortune. Just in case this happens, wrap it with red paper while whispering auspicious phrases. Some would say, “ 岁岁平安 (suì suì píng ān)”. This asks for peace and security every year. 岁 (suì) is also a homophone of 碎, which means “broken” or “shattered.” After the New Year, throw the wrapped-up shards into a lake or river.
3. Do not clean or sweep. The day of cleaning was done before the Spring Festival for that was to sweep away bad luck. But during the actual celebration, this is considered taboo. Instead of sweeping away or throwing out garbage, one might unintentionally sweep away good luck instead. If this cannot be avoided, just sweep starting at the outer edge of a room and sweep inwards. Bag things up first and throw away the barge after the 5th day. This also goes for taking a bath or a shower — don’t take one on Chinese New Year’s Day itself.
4. Do not use scissors, knives or other sharp objects. How did this come about? Two reasons. The first is to give women a well-deserved break. The second is that sharp objects in general will cut your stream of wealth and success. No wonder 99% of hair salons are closed during the holidays. Hair cutting is taboo and forbidden until Lunar February 2, when all festivities are over.
5. Do not visit the wife’s family. For centuries, multiple generations live together. This is why it is expected that the bride will celebrate Chinese New Year with her in-laws. Returning to her parents on New Year’s Day means that there are marriage problems and may also bring bad luck to the entire family. The couple should visit the wife’s family on the 2nd day. They’d bring their children, as well as a modest gift.
6. Do not demand debt repayment. This is a show of understanding to allow everyone a chance to celebrate without worry. Should one still pursue this it would bring bad luck to both parties. Debt collection will be a fair game soon after the 5th day. Borrowing money is also taboo during the celebrations to avoid having to do this for the entire year.
7. Avoid fighting and crying. Unless it can’t be helped it’s all right. If a child cries, don’t reprimand them. Issues should be solved peacefully. Traditionally, even neighbours can intervene to help sort things out to ensure that a smooth path will also be found in the new year.
8. Avoid taking medicine. This is focused during the Spring Festival. Doing so may have you sick the entire year ahead. The exceptions are those who are chronically ill and would need to take their medicine to get better.
9. Do not give New Year blessings to someone still in bed. One is supposed to give New Year blessings (拜年 / bài nián). Do let them get up from bed first. This is so they won’t be bedridden for the entire year. It’s important to remember that one also shouldn’t tell someone to wake up. You don’t want them to be rushed around and bossed around for the year. You can sleep in for sure.
10. Chinese gift-giving taboos. Gift-giving need not be expensive or elaborate. It’s the thought that counts as the cliche goes. But avoid giving the following as they are forbidden:
- Clocks are the worst gifts. Gifting clocks (送钟 / sòng zhōng) is a homophone of paying one’s last respects (送终).
- Splitting pears (分梨 / fèn lí) is also a homophone of separation (分离).
- Note on apples for Shanghainese, it is pronounced as bing1 gu, which sounds like “passed away from sickness.”
Surprising Facts about the Chinese New Year
To balance off the taboos, here are something fun to read on about the Chinese New Year, we gathered a lot of interesting tidbits, amazing information and cool insights on the festivities and practices. It is truly in the details that great things matter most. Imagine, more than 20% of the world celebrate this occasion. Let’s take part!
1. Chinese New Year is also known as the Spring Festival
It is very cold and winter weather is ever-present but in China, you’ll hear it being called chunjie (春节), or the Spring Festival. People welcome spring and what it brings along: planting and harvests, new beginnings and fresh starts. It can also be called the Lunar New Year for countries like North and South Korea, and Vietnam celebrate this as well.
2. The Gregorian calender shows the Chinese New Year has no set date
The world is used to the Gregorian calendar which has fixed settings on dates for holidays. But when we look at the Lunar calendar, the Spring Festival is on January 1st and lasts until the 15th (the full moon). If we try to sync the lunar calendar with the solar calendar (Gregorian) the Chinese New Year is hopping all over the place.
Chinese New Year ranges from January 21 to February 20. In 2023, it occurs on January 22. This is also why you’ll always see the lunar holidays clearly indicated in modern Chinese calendars. The Chinese New Year is truly the most significant holiday for those observing this. Some folks still calculate their birthdays and age according to the lunar calendar as well.
3. It is a day for praying to gods
Traditionally, the Spring Festival was seen as a ceremonial day to pray to the gods for a good planting and harvest season. In those early times being an agrarian society, the harvest was everything. People also prayed to their ancestors, as they were treated as gods — you can refer to Mulan as a guide on this matter. The best foods were offered to the gods as part of the New Year celebration.
4. It is also a time for fighting off monsters — or bad luck.
There is an interesting myth on this matter. A legend goes that there was a monster named Nian (年). It would come about every New Year’s Eve. Most people would hide in their homes. Only one lone boy stood his ground and bravely fought off Nian using firecrackers. The following day, people celebrated the victory — and their survival — by setting off even more firecrackers. This thus became a practice and a sought-after part of the Spring Festival.
5. Most fireworks are set off in the world that night
With this legend about Nian passed down and gleefully practised through generations, one can say that Chinese New Year’s Eve will always see the most number of firecrackers going off in the world. People stay up until midnight and set off the fireworks precisely at that time. There are still some firecrackers reserved to celebrate the rest of the day to welcome the new year and good luck. If one is in China the fireworks cease after 3 days or can go on for several weeks.
Part of the celebration is the burning of fake paper money and printed gold bars in honour of their loved ones who passed away. This is also similar to the Korean Chuseok holiday or the Mexican Day of the Dead traditions, where it is believed that the offerings will bring fortune and good luck to their ancestors in the afterlife.
6. It is the longest Chinese holiday
Technically, the Spring Festival runs for 15 days. However, the celebrations start on New Year’s Eve (making it 16 days). If we’re going to be really accurate about this, the holiday season starts in (lunar) December with the Laba Festival (腊八节 / là bā jié) — which would bring the grand total to a 40-day celebration.
7. Chinese New Year shopping mall
During the holiday season, Chinese people can be seen spending twice as much on shopping and eating as Americans spend on Thanksgiving. It is a tradition that one will be celebrating with the family and can only go out after the 5th day which is still a national holiday.
The majority of the stores are closed as well. This is why, in the month before things are picking up folks buy nian huo (年货), or New Year’s products. The Chinese stock up on cooking supplies, snacks, gifts, new clothes and more.
8. The Spring Festival causes the largest human migration in the world
Given that this is already the most important holiday every year, it is also built on the expectation and the importance of spending them with one’s family. This has been a tradition and everyone can be seen migrating back to their hometowns to be with their loved ones trying to make it back home just in time for New Year’s Eve dinner. Most elderly parents are in rural villages while their children are working in the cities. The migration back home and to go on vacation is called chunyun (春运), or Spring Migration.
9. Chinese New Year subway station
The subway station in China will be at its biggest challenge whenever the Spring Festival rolls along. Take note that even on normal days, each run is jampacked and folks are barely squishing to close the door. Has this multiplied several times? This is why the earliest tickets to go home can be bought 60 days before the said date. As of 2015, data showed that around 1,000 tickets were sold per second.
10. Singles hire fake boyfriends/girlfriends to take home
If you’ve encountered a blow-by-blow interview by nosy relatives during Thanksgiving, well, this is also multiplied during the family reunions at Spring Festival. It is very important that there is news of how children — now grown-ups — can also have children of their own to pass down the family name. Things have reached a fever pitch that desperate singles choose to hire a fake boyfriend or girlfriend to take home. There are folks who also don’t want to go home for the holidays to avoid this matter — and they can turn up to be the ones hired for the task.
11. No showering, sweeping or throwing out garbage allowed!
It’s for real. The act of sweeping away, cleaning away or throwing something away is a definite don’t after the Spring Festival’s Little Year task. Doing this act while the celebrations are going on would have you vulnerable to unintentionally pushing away good luck. This can be resumed after the 5th day of the new year.
12. Chinese New Year red pockets with lucky money
There is a customary red envelope in which older members of the family place some money and give this to the children. This can contain up to about USD150 per envelope. These are called red packets or red pockets. These are meant to help transfer fortune from elders to the kids. These can also be given between bosses and employees, co-workers, and friends. Currently, this is also available digitally. Folks like to send one into group chats and watch others fight for the money. Aptly called qiang hongbao (抢红包), or literally “snatching red pockets.”
13. Chinese New Year desserts have special meanings
Important festivities always have symbolic foods like the Yule Log cake for Christmas. For the Chinese New Year, these come in many forms of dessert. They also feature some pun in how they are named. Some of these are:
- Tangyuan for example. It literally means “soup balls.” But it sounds like tuanyuan (团圆), which means reunion.
- Nian gao (年糕) is a type of rice cake. It symbolizes success each and every year.
- Fa gao (发糕) is a hybrid of sponge cakes and muffins. This is dyed in festive colours. The fa is the same as in fa cai (发财), which means “to get rich.”
14. There’s wine specifically for the Spring Festival
Having a wine just specifically for the Spring Festival shows how meaningful and important the holiday is. It’s also important to mention that there are also specific wines for other special occasions like another festival, an important dinner, wedding engagement, weddings, birthdays and the like. There is also strict etiquette when making a toast. They include the order of toasts, seating, how you hold the wine glass and the like — that it’s enough for whole new article.
15. The Chinese decorate everything red for Chinese New Year
Just as firecrackers have frightened off and driven off Nian and bad luck, so goes the color red. Red is considered an all-encompassing weapon against bad luck. One will immediately see and feel its presence as one takes a step back to not only look at the decorations but also to what folks are wearing everywhere.
There are dragon decorations that are fiercely red. Red lanterns are hung up and real or fake strings of chilli peppers are strung on windows and door frames. You can also see red paper temporarily pasted, too.
16. Your zodiac year is bad luck
Your ben ming year (本命年 / běn mìng nián) is the year of your zodiac animal. And of the 12-year cycle, it is the unluckiest for you. Why would this be so?
It is believed that children can easily be taken away by demons during their ben ming year or rebirth year. There are weapons you can wear though to avoid this pitfall. One example is the Chinese New Year jade necklace. This features the mythological creature Pi Xiu (貔貅) that you can wear as an accessory for good luck. You’d also need to wear the colour red as an additional defence. You can also choose to have red decorate your home for protection and good fortune. Some folks also wear red underwear year-round for good measure.
17. You grow 1 year older on the Spring Festival
In China, you have a “real” age (实岁 / shí suì) and a “fake” nominal age (虚岁 / xū suì). The real age is the one we all know about. You grow one year older on your birthday. The nominal age increases with the Spring Festival. This is still common and some folks use it interchangeably.
18. The New Year greeting in Chinese is “xin nian kuai le”
There are various ways to greet Happy New Year. Xin Nian Kuai Le literally means as so. But in Hong Kong and other Cantonese-speaking regions, it’s more common to say “gong hei fat choy.” In Mandarin Chinese, it’s “gong xi fa cai” (恭喜发财). It means “congratulations on the fortune.”
There are also different Chinese calligraphy to bring about the New Year. They commonly wish folks:
- Plentiful harvests
- Wealth and fortune
- Health and longevity
- Having children and large families
This shows how food, money and health are things that universally everyone wants. Passing down the family name ranks as one of the important values in the Chinese, too.
19. Chinese New Year ends with the Lantern Festival
The Lantern Festival (灯节 / dēng jié) or the Yuanxiao Festival (元宵节 / yuán xiāo jié) is the first full moon of the (lunar) year. This is one of the merriest parts of the festival with parties going on throughout the neighbourhood. Family and friends are celebrating together and enjoying a night of fun and freedom.
During the earlier days, the Lantern Festival was also a night where girls were allowed to walk around, moon-gaze and look at the beautiful lanterns dotting the environment. Because of this, it’s also known as Valentine’s Day in China.
20. Chinese New Year is celebrated all around the world
The last trivia about the Chinese New Year festival can be considered a bit mind-boggling. Did you know that one out of every five people in the world is Chinese? But this isn’t as accurate because it doesn’t include the millions of overseas Chinese and folks of Chinese descent who are also celebrating the holiday at their own corner of the world.
That’s a wrap! We hope that we’ve inspired you to consider some details and make them a part of your Chinese New Year celebrations. After all, we need all the luck we can get for the year ahead! All the best! Cheers!