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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Collins

Chinese New Year is coming!

Updated: Jun 4, 2019

Chinese New Year is almost here! But, wait… What is it about? In simple words, it’s the celebration of the New Year according to the Chinese traditional lunar calendar. Although China has adopted the Western Gregorian calendar for practical purposes, the Chinese New Year is a movable feast, just like other holidays that are based on the lunar calendar. It is also commonly known as Spring Festival, Lunar New Year and “Chun Jie” (春节).

According to a myth, the tradition started with a fight against Nian – a terrible sea creature with the head of a lion, horns of a rhino and the body of an ox – who would come to the countryside every year, eating crops and children. This happened until some astute ancestors discovered Nian’s weakness: the color red and loud noises. They started decorating their houses in red and exploding segments of bamboo in fire. Until this day, it’s common to see a lot of red during this period and a lot of firecrackers.

Preparing for the New Year

Right before CNY, it’s very common for people to clean their houses in a traditionally accurately dubbed “sweeping the dust”. This represents getting rid of old things to welcome the New Year. This is a time where China experiences a shopping boom, the period where people feel most generous and buy new clothes for the festival among other things.

On New Year’s Eve (Sunday, 7 of February this year), people put up all the decorations, although, a lot of them start doing this even earlier by hanging red lanterns, new year paintings, and red couplets. This is also the day where everyone gathers with their families to have a big dinner. The North and the South have different traditions when it comes to food: in northern China, dumplings (jiaozi) are the traditional dish, while southern Chinese eat a sticky rice cake (niangao).

Jiaozi (dumplings) is the traditional dish for the celebration of CNY in northern China.

Niangao (sticky rice cake) is the traditional dish for the celebration of CNY in southern China.

What about the Hongbao?

Hongbao is the traditional red envelopes containing cash that people give away before and during CNY. The two main exchanges of red envelopes happen within families and between employers and employees. Most companies give hongbao to their employees, even if it’s only a few hundred rmb, although this is not a rule.

Families and close family friends on the other hand give children hongbao – it can be for little kids, or “children” that are still not making money of their own. If you are close to your ayi, you can also give her a red envelope, it’s all up to you. However, it is not uncommon or weird to give a friend a red envelope.

This tradition started during the Qin Dynasty, when elderly would put coins on a red string, which was meant to symbolize “money warding off evil spirits and death”. After printing presses became more common, the tradition transitioned to red envelopes.

Chinese New Year Gala

This is the most watched television program in the world, beating even the Super Bowl, which coincidently takes place on the same day this year (February 7). Broadcasted by CCTV since 1983 with more than 700 million annual viewers, the Gala usually has 8 hosts and is organized by the Ministry of Culture.

In a way to highlight the progress in China, the gala is supposed to appeal to all people from various demographics. It’s almost like a talent show: Chinese opera, street dancing, military songs, models, outstanding scientists, authors, magic, comedy performances, singers – the whole package for entertainment on a four and a half hour show.

Every year, the show ends with a song called “Memorable Tonight” (难忘今宵), sung by different famous singers, check out the 2014 version here.

We wish you a Happy Year of the Monkey!

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