Everything You Need to Know to Celebrate Chinese New Year

We have great respect for the Chinese culture here at Greater China. Not only is the word “China” in our company name, but we have a second office in Shanghai, and many of the Project Managers at our Bellevue office grew up in China. As such, the Chinese New Year is a pretty big deal around the office. 2014 is the Year of the Horse. The Chinese staff along with everyone at the China office gets time off for the holiday, and the party we throw to celebrate serves as the office’s largest and most anticipated event of the year.

We love celebrating the Chinese New Year, and we want to pass along that passion so that you, too, can celebrate with us. The Chinese New Year has a rich history full of traditions. To help you celebrate like a pro, we’ve compiled a list of the must-knows of the holiday.

Background

Chinese New Year celebrations were born out of fear and myth. Legend spoke of the wild beast Nien (which also is the word for "year") that appeared at the end of each year, attacking and killing villagers. Loud noises and bright lights were used to scare the beast away, and the Chinese New Year celebrations were born. Today, the 15-day New Year festivities are celebrated with a week of vacation in metropolitan areas of China. Much like the Western New Year (January 1st), the biggest celebration is on the eve of the holiday. At the turn of the New Year, firework displays are put on throughout the city. The 15th day of the New Year marks the end of the Chinese New Year celebration. Lanterns are lit throughout the streets and often poems and riddles are written for entertainment.

Year 2014

  • Holiday: January 30 to February 5
  • Year of the Horse: symbolizing freedom, strength, power, nobility, grace and beauty

Preparations

To prepare, Chinese people clean their house to rid of ghosts and bad luck associated with the old year. This symbolizes starting off the year with a fresh start, similar to the Western version of a New Year’s resolution. Other customs include:

  • Getting a new hair cut
  • Buying new clothes
  • Settling disagreements
  • Paying off debt

After cleaning, people decorate the house to welcome the New Year. Decorations include lanterns, paint, paper cutting, etc. Live plants in the home symbolize rebirth and new growth. Typically people celebrate and take one week off work to visit their families and friends.

Food

Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner is very important for the family to gather together and enjoy each other’s company over a meal.  Dumplings are the most important dish, because they represent prosperity. If you’re visiting a family or friend during the two-week celebration, bring a gift of tangerines and a red envelope. Tangerines represent abundance of happiness. If the stem is intact, this assures a secure relationship.

Other common Chinese New Year dishes include:

  • Eight treasures rice (contains glutinous rice, walnuts, different colored dry fruit, raisins, sweet red bean past, jujube dates, and almonds)
  • “Tang  Yuan” – black sesame rice ball soup or Won Ton soup
  • Chicken, duck, fish and pork dishes
  • “Song Gao” literally translates to “look cake”. It’s made of rice which has been coarsely ground and then formed into a small sweet round cake
  • “Jiu Niang Tang” – sweet wine-rice soup which contains small glutinous rice balls
  • Noodles eaten uncut to represent long life

Symbols

There are many symbols associated with the Chinese New Year. Here are a few main ones to look for:

  • Red: meaning good luck, fortune, happiness, abundance
  • Red envelopes called “hong bao” (Mandarin) are typically given only to children or unmarried adults with no job. They contain small amounts of money for good fortune
  • Red scrolls with poems are displayed around the house or at the gate of the house
  • Dragon: meaning prosperity, good luck and good fortune. Dragon is present in many Chinese cultural celebrations
  • 12-year cycle is associated with an animal: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog or Pig
  • 10-year cycle of heavenly stems: Wood, Fire, Earth Metal and Water
  • Fireworks ignited to scare off evil spirits

Taboo

Chinese people are very superstitious, so it is important to start the New Year on the right foot. Some include:

  • Avoiding certain words that are thought to bring bad luck such as: death, broken, killing, ghost, illness or sickness
  • Keeping the barrel of rice full - it is thought to be unlucky if the barrel of rice is empty because it foretells having little or nothing to eat in the next year
  • Opening every door and window in the house to allow the old year to go out
  • Cleaning the entire house before New Year's Day to start the New Year fresh

North America Celebrations

There are many celebrations of the Chinese New Year all across North America. No matter where you are, there’s no excuse not to celebrate! Here are some of the main cities that partake in the festivities:

San Francisco

  • This city boasts the oldest and largest Chinatowns in North America and one of the top ten parades in the world. Includes flower show, Miss Chinatown USA Pageant, and even a basketball jamboree. Traditional 201-foot-long golden dragon carried by 100 men and women

New York

  • This parade is centered around Manhattan’s Mott Street. A little over a decade of celebrating. Around 5,000 participants including marching bands, dancers, and colorful floats.

Seattle

  • There is always an annual celebration in the international district of Seattle, complete with dragons and yummy food.
  • You can also celebrate from a seat and attend the Cultures of China Festival of Spring at the Paramount Theater. The show is a celebration of Chinese New Year showcasing the finest of traditional and modern dance performances, folk songs and Peking opera singing by acclaimed artists

Washington D.C.

  • This celebration features lion and dragon dances, festival, lanterns and lights, film screenings, table tennis, and martial arts

Vancouver, BC, Canada

  • Vancouver has been throwing elaborate celebrations for the Chinese New Year for over three decades. This celebration always features a parade, Chinese garden, and food

Watch the Chinese New Year dragons come to life in this three-minute videoabout the holiday by History.com.

 

The Chinese New Year has something to offer every one of all ages and interests. The holiday may be rooted in Chinese culture and history, but all are invited to join in the festivities. So no matter where you’ll be at the beginning of February, check out what celebrations are happening in your neck of the woods, we promise you won’t regret it!

 

Want more info? Check out the sources we used to write this article:

Sources:

1.     http://www.history.com/topics/chinese-new-year-traditions-and-symbols

2.     http://www.chinesenewyears.info/chinese-new-year-traditions.php

3.     http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/special/china_general_lunar.htm

4.     http://intelligenttravel.nationalgeographic.com/2010/02/04/chinese_new_year_celebrations/

5.     http://web.uvic.ca/~mroth/438/CHINA/chinese_new_year.html

6.     http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/Chinese_Customs/chinese-new-year.htm

7.     http://www.travelchinaguide.com/essential/holidays/spring-festival.htm

8.     http://web.uvic.ca/~mroth/438/CHINA/taboos.html