In 2023, the Lunar New Year, or Chinese New Year, takes place on January 22. The festivities go on for more than just an evening, however, because it’s a fifteen-day celebration that’s filled with traditions honoring history, culture, and a hope for good luck in the coming year. Here are the top ten traditions to look for:
- Festival of Lanterns
On the fifteenth day of the Chinese New Year, the Festival of Lanterns is held to mark the end of the holiday. People celebrate by adorning the streets with glowing lanterns that often have riddles written on them. You may also see dragon dances and fireworks.
- New Year’s Eve Meal
This is the most important meal of the year for those celebrating the Chinese New Year. Though it’s tradition to gather at a relative’s house for the dinner, in modern times, restaurants and private caterers are kept extremely busy this day. At the feast, you can expect duck, chicken, and pork dishes; as well as “eight treasures rice,” which is rice with walnuts, dried fruits, raisins, almonds, and bean paste.
- Welcoming the Gods of Wealth and Prosperity
The fifth day of the New Year is significant because this is when the gods of prosperity are believed to pay a visit. Businesses wanting to take advantage of this holiday will set off firecrackers in the hope that their participation will bring good economic fortune.
- Gifting Red Envelopes
You may be aware that red is considered a lucky color in Chinese culture. For this reason, red envelopes stuffed with money are given as gifts to children or to those in financial need during the Chinese New Year. The name for these envelopes in Mandarin is hong bao.
- Cleaning and Decorating
Starting a few weeks before the New Year, people begin the practice of cleaning their homes. More than just a chance for a deep clean, this tradition symbolizes getting rid of the old and preparing for the new. Then, on Chinese New Year’s Eve, it’s customary to decorate your home with red decorations, such as ornate paper with spring couplets.
- New Clothing
New year, new wardrobe! This custom that dates to around 420 A.D. encourages people to save their pennies to buy a nice new outfit they can show off on New Year’s Day. And, of course, the preferred color for the new clothing is red.
While firecrackers are set off by businesses on the fifth day, don’t be surprised to hear these must-have party supplies during the entire celebration. Just as some people in other cultures bang pots and pans to welcome in the New Year, in the Chinese culture, firecrackers were originally thought to ward off bad spirits. Nowadays, electronic firecrackers are popular because they have the noise and flashing lights, but none of the smoke.
During the traditional New Year’s Eve meal, families are sure to have a whole, cooked fish as the centerpiece on the table. Fish is associated with abundance and riches, which is why the fish head is sometimes saved for the guest of honor.
- New Year’s Greetings
On New Year’s Day and throughout the holiday, families will take their children to pay a visit to their elders. As is evident in other aspects of Chinese culture, showing respect for one’s elders is a priority during this holiday. Children greet their elders with a special New Year’s message, and, in return, the elders often gift the children with the hong bao envelopes and some candy.
The last tradition is the tastiest—indulging in a variety of sweet treats. On New Year’s Day, you can expect to eat leftovers from the big feast the night before and a ton of desserts. Two of the most delicious are nian gao (rice flour cake) and jian dui (fried sesame balls filled with red bean paste).
By Kelli Drummer-Avendano