Chinese Culture – New Year Traditions
Thursday the 19th of February is Chinese New Years Day and will see the beginning of the Year of the Sheep. Families all across China will celebrate in their own traditional ways. Many will make Chinese dumplings (jiăozi – 饺子) as a family and hand out red envelopes (hóngbāo – 紅包) of money to their nearest and dearest.
However, these local traditions go much further than gifts of money and eating dumplings and vary greatly from region to region. China is a vast place with a huge population and contains many different ethnic minorities. Traditions not only vary from region to region but also from family to family.
In order to introduce you to different local Chinese New Years Traditions from different parts of China, we asked 3 of our teachers at LTL Mandarin School to tell us all about their own regional traditions and family traditions.
Thomas from Beijing
My name is Tongda (Thomas), a Chinese teacher from LTL. I’m an “old” Beijinger, generations of my family have lived here. I grew up in the Tian’anmen area, in a Hutong house. Different places have different culture and I would like to share with you some traditional culture of Beijing for celebrating the Chinese New Year.
Before Spring Festival’s Eve, people who live in the Hutongs put couplets with blessings on each side of the gate to their courtyard and also put one on the top of gate. For example: Welcome the New Year, Happy Year of Sheep, all the best and luck in the New Year and so on.
We also put The Door God on the gate of courtyard, which is used to scare away evil spirits.
We eat dumplings together with the family on New Year’s Eve, watch the Spring Festival TV gala and then watch fireworks through the window. We also eat New Year’s cake, which in Chinese is called “nian gao” (nian – year, gao – high). Eating this ensures everything will get better and better, year after year.
On the first day of the New Year, we start to visit relatives. However, girls can’t visit relatives on the first day, they normally start on the second day. We don’t sweep the floor, throw out the rubbish, take a shower or have our hair cut on the first day of New Year.
Instead we normally buy fruit as presents to give to relatives. Different fruits bring different wishes, for instance:
- Apples : which stand for safety, sound and peace.
- Tangerines: which bring big luck.
- Oranges: stand for dreams coming true.
- Peaches: stand for long life.
In Chinese culture, we have 12 signs of the zodiac – mouse, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, chicken, dog and pig. The coming year will be the year of the sheep, so people who are sheep will wear red things during the year starting from New Years Day, like red socks, red clothes, red underwear, red waistband and so on.
On the second day of New Year, Beijingers like to pray to the Cai Shen Deity, the god of prosperity. They teach us that kind and devotional prayers will result in abundant financial resources and people should make these fortunes based on kindheartedness and justice.
During the holiday, we also like to visit Temple Fairs, and pray in Buddhist and Daoist temples for a healthy and bright New Year. On the 5th day of New Year, we eat dumplings again. On the 15th day of lunar calender, we eat Yuan Xiao (sweet dumplings made of glutinous rice flour) for the Lantern Festival. In the evening of Lantern Festival, people like to go for a walk outside which brings them good health and signifies the end of the Spring festival. These are the traditions for celebrating New Year as a Beijinger. Happy Spring Festival!
Tongda (Thomas), LTL Teacher
Emma from Fuzhou
My hometown is in a county town called Yongtai which belongs to Fuzhou city in southern China. The days before Chinese New Year’s Eve, every family starts to prepare for the celebration. First of all, we do the spring-cleaning to embrace a new and clean year. The next step is to prepare food for the New Year’s Eve feast.
We don’t have dumplings but Tangyuan (汤圆) which is a kind of round and white food indicating Tuanyuan (团圆, the family reunion). We also eat another white and round dish but this one is a flat cake made of rice called Niangao (年糕). A fish dish is a necessity on the table every year, because fish(鱼yu) indicates 年年有余（nian nian you yu）which means every year we will have plenty of food. Every year, we also enjoy a kind of traditional noodle made from eggs and a kind of sweet potato which is called Longyan(蛋燕).
Before we start the dinner of the New Year’s Eve, we offer some sacrifices to the Goddess of kitchen. We believe she will bless and protect us. Every year I enjoy the food on the table and I know my mother has already kept half of the delicious food in the kitchen which we will enjoy again on the first day of the New Year. To eat the food that is kept from the last day of last year is another way to improve nian nian you yu.
Special things we do
After the spring-cleaning, every family starts to decorate their house, like posting new year’s scrolls and the Fu福 character which normally should be upside and down to show that Fu is arriving. When it comes to the evening of New Year’s Eve, the children will be very excited as they get the “lucky money” from the senior members of the family and they love the fireworks display.
On the first day of the new year, fathers will set off fireworks to “wake up the New Year”. Meanwhile mothers start to prepare the big breakfast. Every one should wake up by themselves and appear at the table with their new dresses. We cannot knock at other people’s door to wake them up as it will bring bad luck to them. On the first day just family members spend time together. From the second day onwards, every family will start to welcome the visitors and they can enjoy the get-together time which is really nice.
These are the things my spring festival consists of.
Emma Chen, LTL teacher.
Cynthia from Liaocheng
My name is Zhang Xin (my English name is Cynthia), I come from Liaocheng city of Shandong province, east of China. Because Shandong province is the hometown of the Confucius, the spring festival customs are very important for us. Spring Festival runs from Laba Festival (the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month) to Lantern Festival (the fifteenth day of the first lunar moon). On Laba Festival, people like to eat Laba rice porridge which is rice porridge with nuts and dried fruit. From that day on, people start to clean and clear out their house, buy new clothes and delicious food to prepare for Spring Festival.
On the “small new year” (the twenty third day of the twelfth lunar moon), people need to eat dumplings and “free the kitchen god” who, according to myth, goes to visit the Jade Emperor and reports on the family’s performance in the last year. The most important day of Spring Festival is New Year’s Eve. This day of the year is also known as the “big thirty”. After noon, people will paste couplets and paste the character of “Fortune” upside down as this means fortune will arrive in the future. In the evening, there will be the family reunion dinner and afterwards the custom of giving gifts of money. When it is 12:00am, every family will light fireworks.
The first day of the new year is also very important. People should get up early in the morning to visit relatives, pay a new year call, and adults need to give children “Ya sui” money for a gift. From now on, people would visit relatives until Lantern Festival, especially the married women who visit parents on the second day. On Lantern Festival (the fifteenth day of the first lunar moon), we will eat Yuanxiao (rice glue ball) and appreciate all the beautiful lanterns.
Cynthia, LTL teacher
From all of the teachers and staff here at LTL, 新年快乐
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