Chinese New Year's Eve Traditions
Chinese New Year's eve is the big day for ringing out the old and ringing in the new. With the development of the economy, some traditional customs have gradually disappeared, some new ways of celebration appeared. Here are the top 8 traditions of Chinese New Year's eve.
1. Reuniting with Family (家庭团聚 jiā tíng tuán jù)
Chinese New Year's eve is the reunion day for every Chinese family. With a 7-day public holiday, all Chinese people would try their best to go back home no matter how far they live. All family members will gather together, enjoying a grand family reunion dinner, chatting, singing, and laughing to celebrate this special day.
2. Cleaning Houses (大扫除 dà sǎo chú)
Chinese families will clean their houses: sweeping the floor, washing clothes, cleaning spiders' webs, and dredging ditches on Chinese New Year's Eve. It is traditionally believed that dust represents "old" things, so cleaning houses means doing away with the "old" and preparing for the "new"; with the intention of sweeping all the rotten luck from the previous year out the door.
Interestingly, one of the taboos of Chinese New Year is avoiding cleaning houses on Chinese New Year Day
. People believe that if they do sweep or dust on New Year's Day, their good fortune will be swept away.
3. Decorating House (贴年红 tiē nián hóng)
Apart from cleaning houses, Chinese people will also decorate their houses on Chinese New Year's eve. People believe that auspicious decorations such as Spring Couplets, Door-God pictures, New Year's paintings, paper-cuts, and lanterns can drive away evil spirits and bring good luck.
Below are some popular decorations you might encounter when you celebrate the Spring Festival in China.
4. Worshiping Ancestors (祭祖 jì zǔ)
Worshiping ancestors is an old custom dating back thousands of years. People believe that the deceased family members have a continued existence in heaven, their spirits will look after the family and have the ability to influence the fortune of the living. So people offer sacrifices to ancestors at traditional festivals and hope the deceased ancestors would bless the whole family.
On Chinese New Year's eve, people will offer various dishes, fruits, and burn incense to worship ancestors.
5. Watching CCTV New Year's Gala (看春晚 kàn chūn wǎn)
CCTV's New Year Gala, also known as the Spring Festival Gala, is called Chunwan (春晚 chūn wǎn) in Chinese. The TV show is broadcast annually on Chinese New Year's eve at 8:00 PM.
Sitting together and watching the Spring Festival Gala has become a popular way to celebrate Chinese New Year's eve since the 1980s.
The show includes many different kinds of performances such as singing, dancing, comic dialogue, sketch comedy, magic, and acrobatics.
6. Setting off Fireworks (放烟花 fàng yān huā)
Ancient Chinese people believed that fire could dispel bad luck, sparks could bring good luck, loud noise could scare away evil spirits and smoke made Yang energy (a kind of positive life-energy) rise. Fireworks produce such effects as fire, sparks, sound, and smoke when they are set off. It naturally combines with people's good wishes and becomes an ideal product for celebrations.
In ancient times, people would set off fireworks at 12:00 PM on Chinese New Year's Eve to celebrate the coming of the new year
. Nowadays, many cities across China have imposed bans or restrictions on the use of fireworks for the sake of safety and environmental protection.
7. Giving Red Envelopes (给红包 gěi hóng bāo)
The red envelope or red packet is called lai see (利是lei6 si6) in Cantonese, hong bao or 压岁钱 (yā suì qián) in Mandarin. It is commonly used as a monetary gift from the older generation to the younger generation during festivals or special occasions in China. Through giving red envelopes, parents sending their good wishes to the children.
Currently, giving digital red envelopes via Wechat or Alipay app becomes a trend among young people.
8. Staying up Late (守岁 shǒu suì)
Shousui means staying up late or all night on Chinese New Year's Eve. After the grand reunion dinner, all family members will sit together, chatting, playing cards or mahjong, watch the gala to welcome the arrival of the New Year.
People believe that staying up late can delay the aging process of the elder family member and prolong their life.
The longer children stay awake, the longer their parents will live. You will find many families will keep their light on all night on Chinese New Year's eve.
Chinese New Year's Eve Dinner
The family reunion dinner held on the evening of Chinese New Year's eve is one of the major events of the Spring Festival. In ancient times, it was the biggest meal of the whole year. People could eat a lot of food that they wouldn't normally eat.
Although there are many choices for food in modern times, traditional Chinese New Year's Eve dinner is also a very important meal for every Chinese family. Every dish has a different meaning.
1. Fish: Always Have More Than You Wish For
The Chinese word for "fish (鱼 yú)" has the same pronunciation as the word for "surplus (余yú)". Chinese people always like to have a surplus at the end of the year, people think that saving things helps to make more in the next year. Eating fish stands for "always have more than you wish for".
What's interesting is that people will not finish all the fish as leaving some on the table signifies having everything in abundance for the coming year
2. Chicken: Good Luck!
The Chinese word "Chicken (鸡 jī)" sounds like the word "吉jí", which means good luck and auspice in Chinese culture. In southern China, people will serve a whole chicken on the dinner table to show happiness and reunion.
3. Nian Gao: Wish You a Prosperous Year
Chinese New Year Cake in South China
Nian gao (年糕 nián gāo), also known as "rice cake" or "Chinese New Year cake", is a traditional food made from glutinous rice flour. People believed nian gao carries auspicious meaning.
For old people, nian gao expresses the wish for longevity
. For young people, it expresses the wish for promotion and high income
. For kids, it expresses the wish to grow up
4. Dumplings: Change from the Old and to the New
Dumplings, "饺子 jiǎo zi" in Chinese, sound like "交子 jiāo zi" which means changes from the old and to the new.
The shape of a Chinese dumpling is similar to a gold ingot, people believe that eating dumplings on Chinese New Year's Eve means "ushering in wealth and prosperity". What's interesting is that people who eat the dumplings occasionally stuffed with special materials like a coin, a candy, a peanut, or a red date, will have the best luck in the new year.
Click Chinese New Year Food to find out more lucky food eaten during Chinese New Year.