Chinese New Year is considered the most important traditional festival for the Chinese people with its roots tracing back 3,500 years ago. Chinese New Year is usually depicted with the color red, which symbolizes positive energy, happiness and good luck. People usually wear a red hat, a red scarf, red clothes or a red bracelet to attract positivity in the new year. My mother used to tell me multiple legends of dragons and monsters to describe the importance of this day and why we value every individual Chinese New Year tradition.

In my childhood when I lived in North-West China, my mother used to start the Chinese New Year preparations months in advance. As New Year’s Eve approached, she would start cleaning every nook and cranny of the house to make sure everything was in its best condition. Sometimes she would go to the extent of re-painting the walls. My mother also bought materials to make me and my siblings’ new clothes and shoes which she would sew herself each year. Every article of clothing from head to toe is supposed to be new as we start a new year. Our next-door neighbour prepared Chun Lian for everyone in our neighborhood. Chun Lian (spring couplets) is a decorative banner hung on both sides of the front door, made with red paper, with New Year wishes painted in calligraphy. Traditionally, it was used to protect the house from evil spirits. 

The most important tradition for every New Year’s Eve is Nian Ye Fan – our Family reunion dinner. My parents would take days to prepare this meal, and they would begin cooking dinner the morning of New Year’s Eve. My mother’s food smelled so tempting that we used to run towards the kitchen repeatedly just to attempt to taste the food. Our dinner started around 6 p.m. The kids would set the table and then we all sat around to enjoy the food. After dinner, the grownups would watch the New Year’s Gala on TV and make dumplings from scratch for the New Year Day breakfast. My parents would put a coin in one of the dumplings for a lucky person to find while eating.  

Being uninterested in the gala on TV or making dumplings, we went out to play and set off fireworks and firecrackers with our neighborhood kids. This was the only night we could play late outside and stay awake past midnight. Later in the night, every family would collectively light firecrackers, timed exactly at midnight to start the new year with a bang; it was so loud. According to one folklore, people would use loud sounds to scare the monster Nian away.   

On New Year’s Day, we got up early and put on our new clothes and new shoes. After breakfast, the kids were excited for what they considered the most important tradition – Bai Nian. Kids visited every house in the neighborhood and would shout “Xing Nian Hao” (Happy New Year), and the neighbours handed out candy and delicious homemade treats. Our pockets were always full that we had to do rounds of home only to drop off the candy and treats. After visiting the neighbours, we ran to the Public Square to see the local street performers dressed in traditional costumes, such as Wu Shi (lion Dance), Cai Gao Qiao (stilts), Ming Jian Wu Dao (Folk dances) etc.  

From the third day to the eighth day, family and friends would visit each other. There is a wide variety of foods, fruits, snacks and treats for sharing. Generally, on Chinese New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, parents give their children a red envelope called Ya Sui Qian. It is believed that the lucky money inside this red envelope can protect children from evil and support them in a peaceful year.   

Chinese New Year is called Chun Jie or Guo Nian, which means ‘celebrate (a new) year’ or ‘surviving in the Nian’s attack’. Like all traditional festivals in China, Chinese New Year is full of stories and myths. If you want to know more, make a Chinese friend. 

 

Glossary of terms: 

People decorate the house with Chun Lian 春联(spring couplets), Chuang Hua 窗花 (paper cutting), Zhong Guo Jie 中国结(Chinese knot) or Deng Long 灯笼(red lantern).   

The most common things we do during the Chinese New Year are Nian ye Fan 年夜饭 (Reunion Dinner), Kan Chun Wan  看春晚 (watch New Year’s Gala), Fang Bian Pao放鞭炮 (set off Fireworks and Fire Crackers), Shou Sui 守岁 (stay up late), Gei Ya Sui Qian 给压岁钱 (lucky money) and Bai Nian 拜年 (visit relatives and friends) etc.  

You will see street performances on New Year Day like Wu shi舞狮 (lion Dance), Cai Gao Qiao 踩高跷(stilts), Ming Jian Wu Dao民间舞 (Folk dances). 

Written by Min Liu

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