Chinese New Year Traditions & Activities

Lunar New Year is the first and top one of the four most important Chinese traditional festivals (the other three are Dragon Boat Festival, Qingming Festival and Mid-autumn Festival). Though it was only until the year of 1914 that Spring Festival became its alternative name, Chinese people have celebrate the New Year in different way for thousands of years. Chinese New Year Traditions might be one of the first thing children learn and then pass on to next generation.

Officially, Chinese New Year holiday is the first three days in lunar calendar, but in folks, people usually starts the preparation around one week before the festival and end the celebration till the 15th day of the first month of lunar year, hence totally 15 days of Lunar New Year activities. During around one month period, there are all kinds of Chinese New Year activities that Chinese family follows in a traditional way. Here we will introduce Top 10 main Chinese New Year Traditions.

Little New Year Festival (the Festival of the Kitchen God)

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December 23rd (24th in south China) in lunar calendar, one week before the lunar New Year, is called Little New Year Festival in China. It’s the day that people starting to prepare for the coming Spring Festival celebrations. A thorough house cleaning is the first thing that needs to do, which may take a couple of days (According to Feng Shui, there's specific hours for cleaning the house). And personal cleaning, bathing and hair cutting are also a tradition to follow on this day. Many places in China have the custom that no hair cutting in the first month of the year.

Another important thing on Little New Year is offering sacrifices to the Kitchen God. It is said that the Kitchen God goes to the heaven to do annual report of the family, so most of the offerings are sweets to encourage him to say good things only about the family. On the fourth day of lunar new year, the Kitchen God will get back to the family.

Worship Gods and Ancestors

Kitchen God is one of the gods Chinese people worship in Spring Festival. People also worship other gods like the Gods of Door and the God of Fortune. Door Gods paintings are usually posted on the door to keep the family safe. The fifth day of the New Year is the birthday of the God of Fortune, people usually offering sacrifice to him one day in advance to welcome his arriving. 

Worshiping ancestors is one of the most important activities of Chinese family of Han people. There are generally three traditional ways to worship ancestors – worship at home, worship at ancestors’ tomb (similar to but simpler than Qingming Festival), and worship in the temple of the ancestors.

Post Spring Festival Couplets

Post Spring Festival CoupletsPosting spring couplets is a unique Chinese traditional folk customs. A set of couplet includes a pair of poetic lines written vertically in black or golden ink on red paper for both sides of the doorway, and a third scroll is usually posted on door head. The content of Spring Couplets usually shows people’s aspirations: good health, more money, happy family, bumper crop.

Besides spring couplet, many people also paste up the character of Fu (), window grilles, door gods and New Year pictures. An interesting detail is to pasting up an upside down of the character of Fu, which means “fortune arriving”.

>> Also read Top Ten Legends and Stories about Chinese New Year to know more why Chinese people post couplets

Family Reunion Dinner on Lunar New Year’s Eve

Besides the dinner on Autumn Festival, the dinner on Lunar New Year’s Eve is the most valued dinner for Chinese people. People will try their best to return home before dinner time, no matter how far they are from home. 

Chinese New Year Foods on the table for this reunion dinner are always following some customs, though there is difference from north to south, from family to family. Most of the dishes have good implied meaning. For example, fish means having a surplus year after year, and lettuce means more fortune next year. Usually the family won’t eat all foods on the table. To left some means the family has more than sufficient foods and fortune every year. 

Jiaozi or dumpling is a must in north China area, while Niangao or New Year Cake made of glutinous rice flour cannot be missed in south China.

>> Also read Top 10 Chinese Spring Festival Lucky Foods, and Top 10 Meat Dishes for Chinese New year

New Year Money (Red Envelope Money)

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Chinese people give lucky money in many occasions – birthday, wedding, housewarming, etc. In Lunar New Year, lucky money is called Ya Sui Money (压岁钱), originally to prevent ghost named “Sui” to bother or do harm to kids on New Year’s Eve. The money is put in a bright, beautiful red envelope, known as Hongbao (Red Envelope) and be placed under kid’s pillow. Nowadays, people give this gift to children or single young people to show their good wishes and luck for the New Year. Young people also give seniors, especially their grandparents to show their respects and good wishes for their health.

Stay up Late on Lunar New Year’s Eve

After the reunion dinner, all family members will stay up late till the morning of the New Year arrives, some even till the sunrise of the New Year. I In Chinese, this is called Shou Sui (守岁). House should be lighted up the whole night. This New Year tradition is said to bring longevity to elder people in the family. 

Another ancient Chinese myth is that a devil named “Nian” comes on New Year Eve. To prevent the devil’s destroy and protect family, people stay awake the whole night. And at mid-night, people fire crackers to drive the devil away.

New Year Greetings/Visiting

As the most important festival in the year, Spring Festival is the best time for family and friends to meet and visit each other. On New Year’s Eve, all family members meet for dinner and in the next days, they will follow the tradition to visit. The first day is for son’s family getting back to parents’ home and the second day for daughter’s family returning to parents. On and after the third day, people will visit friends and take all kinds of activities to celebrate the New Year. 

The most common Chinese New Year greetings is 恭喜发财, pronounced “Gong Hei Fat Choy” in Cantonese or “Gong Xi Fa Cai” in Mandarin, meaning wishing you great happiness and prosperity. Some other greetings are:

新年快乐 Mandarin: xīn nián kuài lè – Happy Chinese New Year

新年好 Mandarin: xīn nián hǎo – Happy Chinese New Year

生意兴隆 Mandarin: sheng yì xīng lóng – Prosperous Business

步步高升 Mandarin: bù bù gāo shēng – Get Promotion Continuously

财源Mandarin: cái yuán gǔang jìn – May a River of Gold flow into Your Pocket

大吉大利 Mandarin: dà jí dà lì – Good Luck & Big Profits

心想事成 Mandarin: xīn xiǎng shì chéng - May All Your Wishes Come True

身体健康,万事如意 Mandarin: shēn tǐ jiàn kāng, wàn shì rú yì – May You Good Health & Get Everything You Wish For

Lion/Dragon Dance

Lunar New Year is not only celebrated in family and between friends, it is also a festival people meet together to enjoy happy time. Lion Dance and Dragon Dance are the most typical Chinese traditional dances at mass gathering.

Lion DanceThe Chinese lion dance is normally operated by two dancers, one of whom manipulates the head while the other forms the rear end of the lion. The team usually includes two to four lions, a dancer holding a decorated ball to guide lions, and a couple of drummers to play drum beats. 

The Chinese Dragon dance is performed by a group of people who hold the long sinuas body of the dragon on poles. Following a dancer with decorated ball, the dragon shape and decorations of the lion, the dance team simulates the imagined movements of this river spirit in a sinuous, undulating manner.

Shopping at Temple Fairs

Miaohui (庙会) or Temple Fairs, is Chinese religious gatherings held by folk temples for the worship of the Chinese gods and immortals. Spring Festival is one of the times that large-scale temple fair held. In the ancient time, the dates of temple fair were various but most would be held on the first day of the lunar New Year. There are different activities at temple fair besides rituals celebrated in the temple, like opera performance, blessing of offerings brought to the temple by families, and various economic activities. Various Chinese foods and snacks can be found here, which is one of the most attractive parts for people, especially for family with child.

Where to visit Temple Fair in Chinese Lunar New Year:

Beijing Longtanhu Miaohui     1st – 5th day of Lunar New Year

Address: Longtan Park, 8 Longtan Rd., Dongcheng District, Beijing

Beijing Ditan Miaohui     1st – 7th day of Lunar New Year

Address: Ditan Park, Andingmen Wai Street, Dongcheng District, Beijing

Beijing Ditan Miaohui     1st – 15th day of Lunar New Year

Address: Between Hufang Bridge and Hepingmen, Xicheng District, Beijing

Guangzhou Guangfu Miaohui     15th – 21st day of Lunar New Year

Address: Renmin Stadium, 18 Jiaochangxi Rd., Yuexiu District, Guangzhou

Luoyang Guanlin Miaohui     1st – 15th day of Lunar New Year

Address: 2 Guanlin Nanjie, Luolong District, Luoyang

Junxian Junxian Miaohui     1st – 32nd day of Lunar New Year

Address: Junxian, Hebi, Henan

Eating Lantern Festival Dumplings (Yuanxiao or Tangyuan)

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Lantern Festival is on the 15th day of Lunar New Year, which is considered as the last day of the festival. There are many traditional activities on this day, such as watching lanterns, guessing riddles on lantern, eating Yuanxiao, etc. Yuanxiao, called Tangyuan in south China, are sweet glutinous rice balls that are typically filled with a sweet red bean paste, sesame paste, or even peanut butter. Yuanxiao is round in shape so it is endowed with the meaning of reunion, harmony and happiness. The most traditional way to cook is to boil it with sugar and ginger be added in the water.

★ Recommended Chinese New Year Tour: 14-day Lunar New Year tour to Guizhou

★ Keep Reading on: Chinese New Year 2024: the Year of the Dragon

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