How to Ring in the Chinese New Year (with a recipe for Spring Rolls)

The following is a post from Hanbridge Mandarin. You can learn more and enter their red envelope lottery by visiting their website.

As a side note, Chinese New Year starts today – February 8, 2016!

How to Say Chinese New Year in Chinese

Chinese New Year 中国新年 Zhōnɡ Guó Xīn Nián
Spring Festival 春节 Chūn Jiē
Lunar New Year 农历新年 Nónɡ Lì Xīn Nián

When Chinese New Year is Celebrated


Chinese New Year is on the first day of the Lunar New Year (农历正月初一 nóng lì zhēng yuè chū yī). Generally, the celebrations last for about 23 days. They traditionally run from 小年 xiǎo nián, Dec 24 (in Southern China) or Dec 23 (Northern China), to the 15th day (upon which the Lantern Festival is celebrated) of the first lunar month in the following year in Chinese calendar. This makes it one of the longest celebrated festivals in the world.

The Chinese term for Spring festival is Guo Nian. Guo means ‘to pass over’ and Nian means ‘year.’ The origins of the Chinese New Year festival go back thousands of years and are steeped in numerous legends, but it is unclear when the beginning of the year was celebrated before the Qin Dynasty.

The Legend or Story Behind the Origin of Chinese New Year

In ancient China, there was a mythical monster called Nian, who had the body of a bull and the head of a lion. It was said to be an extremely ferocious animal that lived deep in the mountains, preying on villagers. When there was nothing left to eat towards the end of winter, Nian would come down from the mountains and visit the villages to hunt, eating livestock, crops, and even villagers, especially children.

Over time, the villagers realized that the ferocious demon Nian feared three things: the color red, fire, and loud noises. As the New Year approached, villagers would make loud noises with drums and firecrackers and hang red signs on windows and doors, in order to frighten away the monster Nian. Nian was frightened, so he ran off, escaping back to his home on the mountain to never return. According to legend, Nian was eventually captured by Hongjun Laozu, an ancient Taoist monk, and Nian became Hongjung Laozu’s mount.

The next morning, villagers joined together to congratulate one another for this great success. Each family held a big celebration with red scarlet signs and firecrackers. The next year they repeated the ritual and it has been passed down generation to generation until today, and thus the custom of Guo Nian (过年) was established.

How Chinese New Year was Celebrated in the Past

Spring Festival is a traditional and very important festival for Chinese people, there are some customs and traditions that are still in place today.

Sweep the House 扫尘 sǎo chén

According to the ancient classic, ‘Liu’s Commentaries of History (Lu Shi Chun Qiu)‘, the Spring Festival celebration can be dated back to the time of the legendary sage-emperors Yao and Shun (about 2300-2200 BC). Because of the shared pronunciation between the words ‘陈 chen‘ and ‘尘 chen‘, sweeping the house symbolizes sweeping out all bad luck and old things. This tradition carries the people’s wish to discard old and bring in the new.

Decorating with Lucky Red Items

Pasting Spring Couplets 贴春联 tiē chūn lián // By tradition, the Chinese love to paste couplets on their gates or door panels when celebrating Spring Festival. The couplets are generally written on red paper and the sentences contain auspicious meanings. They are placed around the door with two being attached to the sides of the door and a third above it. The sentence pasted on the right side of the door is the first line of the couplet and the one on the left is the second line.

For example:
上联:国泰民安神州庆 Shàng lián: Guó tài mín’ān shén zhōu qìng (Peace and Prosperity, China Celebrates.)
下联:家和人寿满园春 Xià lián: Jiā hé rén shòu mǎn yuán chūn (Family Harmony, People Healthy and Long Life, Gardens Full of Spring)
横批:恭贺新春 Héng pī: Gōng hè xīn chūn (Happy Spring Festival)

Paper-Cut Window Decorations 贴窗花 tiē chuāng huā // Chinese paper cuts are made to decorate windows. Colloquially, they are called ‘Chuang Hua‘ which literally means ‘Window Flowers’. Crafters of paper cuts often cut the paper with scissors or knife. Paper cutting reflects many aspects life such happiness, prosperity, health or harvest, with many designs and characters in different styles. Most of the papercuts form a symmetrical design.

Reunion Dinner 团年饭 / 年夜饭 tuán nián fàn / nián yè fàn

Chinese New Year is a time for families to be together. People attach great importance to the reunion dinner on the Eve of Spring Festival. Even family members who may work or study in other cities will put everything aside to unite with their families, gathering together to enjoy delicious food and time together. The holiday is often seen as important because of its promise of a family reunion, rather than for the ceremony itself.

The reunion dinner is always well prepared and elaborate. Fish is an essential dish of the feast, hinting at the idea of an abundant year.

年年有(鱼)余 nián nián yǒu (yú) yú literally means ‘surplus year after year’
祝你年年有余 zhù nǐ nián nián yǒu yú May you have the prosperity in the new year.

Setting Off Firecrackers 燃放烟花爆竹 Rán fàng yān huā bào zhú

One of the traditional Chinese New Year activities is to set off firecrackers at midnight to celebrate the arrival of the Lunar New Year.

The sound of firecrackers is a distinctive feature of Chinese festivals and joyous personal occasions.

Staying Up 守岁 shǒu suì

After the reunion dinner, the whole family stays up late (even all night) on New Year’s Eve to welcome the arrival of the New Year.

Pay a New Year’s Visit 拜年 bài nián

Bainian, literally meaning ‘paying a New Year’s visit’ or ‘wishing somebody Happy New Year’, is an important activity during the Spring Festival. People usually get up very early, donning new clothes, to visit and greet one another to wish a Happy New Year.

The younger generation commonly visits their elders first, such as grandparents and parents, wishing them ‘Good Heath’ and a ‘Long Life’. In return, elders will give Children red envelopes with some money inside.

Other traditional activities to celebrate Chinese New Year include dragon dances, lion dances, dragon parades, drumming and watching Chinese opera. Traditionally, people believe that performing dragon or lion dances serves as a way to pray for good luck and drive out evil spirits.

Giving Red Envelopes 红包 hóngbāo

It’s a tradition on Chinese New Year to give out cash-filled red envelopes, or a ‘hongbao‘ to relatives and children. Red Envelopes are also called ‘yāsuì qián‘ 压岁钱, meaning ‘money warding off evil spirits’

How the Chinese New Year is Celebrated Today

Today, in addition to the above celebrations, families also spend time watching the televised Spring Festival Gala, an annual variety show featuring traditional and contemporary singers, dancers and magic demonstrations.

With the rapid growth of the Chinese economy, people’s living standards have greatly improved and it’s now very convenient for people to buy everything they need for Spring Festivals in supermarkets and other shops.

Paying a New Year Visit (or Call) is Going Digital

Today, relatives and friends now prefer delivering their New Year’s greetings by phone, text messaging, QQ or WeChat over calling on someone in person.

The New Year Celebration is More Modern and Diversified

People’s thoughts towards how the new year should be celebrated have greatly changed with the development of society. More and more people cease to follow traditions normally tied to celebrating Spring Festival. Some of the younger generations even want to spend Spring Festival by traveling with their families rather than spending the holiday at home.

Grabbing Digital Red Envelopes Online is Becoming a New Trend

It is a tradition on Chinese New Year to give out cash-filled red envelopes, or ‘hongbao‘, to relatives and children. But with the massive use of mobile phones in China, the hongbao have now become virtual. The internet giants Tencent and Alibaba have taken the lead in changing the tradition by giving cell phone users a way to send digital hongbao. They also give away digital hongbao to their users. People went crazy over digital hongbao, shaking their phones, trying to grab as many digital red envelopes as they could.

It’s also becoming tradition within companies for a boss or company leaders to throw BIG random digital hongbao on their Wechat or QQ group chat. The employees who responded the quickest would receive the lucky money.

Now it’s also very common among friends and relatives. People are quite obsessed with digital hongbao, checking their phones from time to time to if there are any hongbao available for grabbing. Even when they only manage to grab a penny, they seem to still be content.

Chinese Vocabulary Relevant to the Chinese New Year

EnglishChinesePinyin
Chinese New Year中国新年Zhōnɡ Guó Xīn Nián
Spring Festival春节Chūn Jiē
Lunar New Year农历新年Nónɡ Lì Xīn Nián
Lunar New Year农历正月初一nóng lì zhēng yuè chū yī
Chinese New Year过年guònián
Sweep the House扫尘sǎo chén
Oldchén
Dustchén
Spring Couplets贴春联tiē chūn lián
Surplus Year After Year年年有(鱼)余nián nián yǒu (yú) yú
May you have the prosperity in the new year祝你年年有余zhù nǐ nián nián yǒu yú
Setting Off Firecrackers燃放烟花爆竹Rán fàng yān huā bào zhú
Staying Up守岁shǒu suì
Pay a New Year’s Visit拜年bài nián
Giving Red Envelopes红包hóngbāo
Money Warding Off Evil Spirits压岁钱yāsuì qián

A Recipe for a Chinese New Year Dish

Foods eaten during the Chinese New Year include:

腊八粥 Làbāzhōu Laba Porridge
年糕 Niángāo Rice Cake
饺子 Jiǎozi Dumplings
元宵 Yuánxiāo Glutinous Rice Balls
春卷(也叫春饼) Chūnjuǎn (yě jiào chūnbǐng) Spring Rolls

[yumprint-recipe id=’16’]

What about you? How do you celebrate the New Year? I’d love to hear about your traditions in the comments below!


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Published on: February 8, 2016

Filed Under: Culture & History

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