Celebrating Chinese New Year Around the World

Many people all around the world enjoy the holiday season. Christmas and New Years is a time to be with family, relax and to reflect on the past year. Whilst the festivities in the western world are slowing down, now that it is January, many Chinese-speaking countries are about to begin their biggest celebration of the year.

Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, does not fall on the traditional date of January 1st. Chinese New Year is based on China’s lunar calendar which means that the date is not set, but will vary from year to year, though it will always fall between 21st January and 20th February.

Preparation for Chinese New Year is taken very seriously. Many people spend days cleaning their houses. This symbolizes saying farewell to the past year, and welcoming the New Year. Most households will decorate their doorways with red lanterns and symbols of good fortune and prosperity. Red is considered very lucky in Chinese culture and is therefore used for many decorations during this time. It is most common for decorations to appear on New Year’s Eve, though some are displayed days in advance.

This coming Chinese New Year, we will be celebrating the Year of the Rooster.

Each year is symbolized by one of twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiac. Chinese children grow up learning the story of how the order came to be. It is thought that children born in each of the animal years have characteristics of these animals.  For example, Oxen are perceived as hardworking and dependable. To learn more about this fascinating story, click the link below: http://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/chinese-zodiac/story.htm

For Chinese people, Chinese New Year is a bigger event than Christmas, but like Christmas, it is seen as a very important time for family. People travel far and wide to be with their families. In fact, Chinese New Year is the busiest time to travel around China as roughly 200 million people are on the move! It is necessary for those travelling to book their journey a long time in advance! Perhaps driven by globalisation Chinese New Year parades and festivities are springing up in more and more pockets of cities around the world.

People will often spend large sums of money on new clothes for the celebrations. Retail outlets will clear out their old stock with big sales to make way for the new. Dressing in new clothes symbolizes a new start. Chinese people believe that the first day of the New Year will set the tone for the rest of the year and therefore it is important to dress well. A visit to the temple is a vital time to pay their respects to their ancestors, least they not be forgotten.

In the lead up to Chinese New Year, many shops sell or give away red envelopes. These red envelopes are also known as Lucky Money or Lai See. Traditionally, adults will fill an envelope with a small sum of money and give them to those who are younger. This gesture is to bestow good luck and prosperity on the recipient. Employers will often give their employees a red envelope in a similar way. More information can be found at: http://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/festivals/red-envelop.htm

Like the traditional New Year’s Eve, the new Lunar year begins with a bang! Major cities will have large fireworks displays. Traditionally, firecrackers would be let off, but due to safety regulations, these days, big cities do not permit their use. Fireworks and firecrackers are important for the start of the New Year as Chinese people believe that the noise produced will scare away any demons or evil spirits.

A popular performance among Chinese people is the traditional Chinese Lion Dance. Two dancers usually share the lion costume with one person acting as the head and front limbs and the other as the back and hind legs. It is a spectacular event to watch as professional dancers perform skilled routines involving gymnastics, jumping and climbing or even playing with a ball. These performances can be seen on the streets as well as in large shopping centres.

In some areas, a Dragon Dance will be performed instead. Both dragons and lions are widely respected creatures in Chinese culture. Lions are considered auspicious, bringing prosperity and luck whilst dragons are symbols of wealth, power and wisdom.  

Some schools invite children to perform their own dragon or lion dances, and allow students to dress in traditional Chinese clothing. This is a very fun time of year for young children as they learn about their culture and celebrate.

Tourists visiting these countries during this busy time can witness firsthand the effort that Chinese people put in to this important celebration. There are many exciting things to see, delicious foods to try and rich culture to be immersed in. Being part of this colourful experience is something truly unique and worthwhile.

With decorations appearing and the festivities beginning, we bid farewell to this past year and look forward to the New Year ahead.

As we say in Hong Kong, Kung Hei Fat Choi!