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The Chinese New Year - Spring Festival

January 2011

The Chinese New Year - Spring Festival

The Chinese New Year is the most important festival for the Chinese people.

It starts with the New Moon on the first day of the Lunar New Year and ends on the day of the full moon 15 days later. The 15th day of the New Year is called the Lantern Festival, which is celebrated at night with lantern displays and children carrying lanterns in a parade.

Before the eve of the New Year, the family gathers with everyone trying to return home for the festivities. A great deal of symbolism and superstition is associated with the New Year. On the last day the house should be swept and everything cleaned, socks darned, fences mended, etc, so that the New Year will bring good fortune and so that no unfinished business or bad luck will carry over from the previous year. Businesspeople will pay their debts and prepare their offices for the New Year also. Food for the New Year’s Day will be prepared the night before, so no cooking or cleaning is necessary on the first day of the New Year.

After the family feast, members of the family will often stay up playing Mahjong (a traditional Chinese gambling game) all night or until the wee hours of the morning.

The first day of New Year is for the immediate family. Older members and married members of the family will give Lai See (or Lucky Money) in red packets to the single and unmarried. There should never be an amount with 4 in it (i.e. 4, 40, 400) as it is considered unlucky and all amounts should be even amounts.

Bosses should also give Lai See to their staff and junior colleagues. In very traditional companies, the Feng Shui Master will dictate a time for all management to come to the office (the time will be dictated by the Chinese calendar and compass and may be 5.00am or 17.00pm changing year to year). At the exact minute dictated by the Feng Shui Master, all the doors of the management will be opened. This will be followed by such traditions as burning jor sticks and offering a suckling pig to the Gods.

The second day of Chinese New Year is the day for visiting and families to pile into buses, trains and cars to visit other family members and friends. It is very hierarchical with the youngest having to visit everyone up to the oldest who stays put and everyone visits them.

Like much of Chinese life, it is very structured and very family orientated. While superstition has become a big part of it, it has always been a traditional family time and even to this day the importance of respect and order in the family is pre-eminent.


Traditional New Year Foods

As at all traditional Chinese gatherings, food plays an important role in the Chinese New Year Festival. Dinners tend to be very elaborate involving tables laden with auspicious foods.

On New Year's Eve, families have a reunion feast such as "nian gao", a sticky rice pudding cake which is said to make people "advance toward higher positions and prosperity step by step" and long life noodles. A New Year's Eve tradition from Northern Chinese has dumplings or jiao zi” as central to the dinner. They are shaped like the golden ingots “yuan bao” used during the Ming Dynasty for money and the Chinese name sounds like the word for the earliest paper money. Serving them is meant to bring the promise of wealth and prosperity for the coming year!

Many families eat these at midnight so they have money at the changing of the years. Some cooks will hide a clean coin in one for the most lucky to find.

On New Year's Eve, when everyone gathers around the table for the "Family Reunion Dinner", carp is a typical main course, because it symbolizes a profitable year ahead. The fish is never fully eaten to ensure that the family will have an excess of good fortune through the year. Vegetables embody the freshness of "evergreen" and store good fortune in their roots. Fish balls “yu-wan” and meat balls “jou-wan” are symbolic of "reunion." The round shape of the meat and fish balls portrays "togetherness." Great care is taken to serve an even number of dishes to bestow "double happiness" on the family.


2011, Year of Rabbit

In the Chinese zodiac, the rabbit is fourth in a cycle of 12 animals that represent each Chinese New Year. 2011 is the Year of the Rabbit and occurs from February 3, 2011 to January 22, 2012. The Year of the Rabbit should be a peaceful year, much welcomed after the Year of the Tiger. Rules and regulations will not be as strictly enforced and people will have fun and relax. Overall, it should be a moderate year with an easygoing pace. People born under the Year of the Rabbit possess characteristics similar to a rabbit, while aspects of their lives also reflect a rabbit's tendencies.


For more information, please contact Brian Yin at