Chinese New Year Traditions - Top 15 Activities/Celebrations

Written by Sally Guo Updated Jan. 13, 2023

As the most important festival of the year, there are lots of traditions for the Chinese New Year.  All these traditions express people's best wishes for the year ahead. Read the top 11 Chinese New Year traditional activities below: 

1. Clear out Last Year’s Clutter and Make Way for the New

In the days leading up to Chinese New Year, Chinese families sweep the floors, wash clothes and other things, clean spiders' webs, and dredge ditches. 

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. People do this willingly in the hope of a good year ahead.

2. Hanging Red Lanterns

In Chinese culture, the color red symbolizes good fortune and joy. People believe red lanterns can help to drive away evil spirits and bring good luck. So people usually hang red lanterns in their houses, parks, and city streets at the Chinese Spring Festival. 

It is said that the higher the lanterns are hung, the luckier the family will be. Every year, lantern carnivals and exhibitions are held in parks and other public places, during which lanterns of various colors, patterns, and styles are on display. 

Chinese New Year Lanterns

3. Pasting Spring Festival Couplets

Pasting Spring Festival couplets are one of the oldest traditions of the new year. It is written in black ink on red paper.  Spring Couplets are hung on gateposts or door panels on Lunar New Year's Eve. They express people's best wishes for the New Year.

New Year couplets are usually posted in pairs because even numbers are associated with good luck in Chinese culture.

Lunar New YEAR Ttradition

4. New Year Shopping

Before Chinese New Year's eve, Chinese people would do new year shopping, preparing the goods for the Spring Festival. People usually buy new year's food and snacks, decorations, and fireworks, etc. Candies, new year gifts, and new clothesare included in the new year shopping for kids. Like Christmas, Spring Festival in China is a boom time for shopping.

5. Worship Ancestors

On the Eve of Chinese New Year, Chinese families usually worship their ancestors in the hope that ancestral spirits will bless them for a smooth and prosperous coming year.  In some regions, people will take the offerings to their ancestors' graves. Once at the graves, they will clean them and offer food.   Joss sticks and joss paper are burnt. Firecrackers are setting off then to drive away evil spirits that might bother their ancestors.

The offerings usually include meat, fruit, alcohol, and bean curd.    

6. Enjoying a Reunion Dinner

The most important activity on Chinese New Year's eve is having a family reunion dinner. This reunion dinner is not only the most significant of the year, but a great moment for family reunion, especially for those family members live in different areas.

Chinese people eat certain foods with their auspicious symbolic meanings. These lucky dishes usually include fish, chicken, Chinese dumplings, new year cakes, etc. Lucky food is usually served at family reunion dinners on Chinese New Year's Eve. Eating these foods is believed to have a prosperous next year. 

Dishes and food symbols of family reunion dinner on Chinese New Year's Eve

Read more at the Top Lucky Food to Eat for Chinese New Year.

7. Watching New Year Gala

It has become customary for many Chinese families to watch New Year Gala while having the reunion dinner. The most famous is CCTV's Spring Festival Gala. The Gala starts at 8 pm and ends when the Chinese New Year arrives at midnight. Singing, dancing, cross talk, sketch comedy, and acrobatics are always seen in the Gala.

8. Staying up late on the eve of the Chinese New Year

Staying up late is said to bring longevity to one's parents.  Usually, after dinner, all family members will sit together, chatting, playing cards or mahjong, and watch the CCTV gala to welcome the arrival of the New Year.

 It is believed the longer you stay up, the longer your parents will live. You need to stay up, but not in the dark.   Keeping all lights on is believed to bring prosperity to the house. 

9. Setting off Fireworks

Setting Off Firecrackers

Setting off fireworks used to be an indispensable custom during the Chinese New Year. Chinese people believe that the noise of the fireworks could scare away evil spirits and that the sparks could bring good luck.

In many major cities, however, the government has banned this practice, for it may bring unwelcome noise and danger.

In rural areas, as New Year's Day arrives, towns light up with the glitter of fireworks, accompanied by deafening sounds. Families stay up for these joyful moments, and kids with firecrackers in one hand and lighters in another cheerfully express their happiness on this special occasion… though they need to plug their ears.

10. Exchanging New Year Greetings

Upon the arrival of the Chinese New Year in midnight, Chinese people usually send blessing messages to their relatives, friends, and colleagues via SMS or WeChat, expressing their best wishes of the coming year. 

11. Giving Red Envelopes to Kids

Red Envelopes

Red Envelopes

 Chinese New Year red envelopes (red packets /red pockets), known as hong bao in Mandarin or lai see in Cantonese, are the lucky money given from the older generation to the younger generation as New Year's gifts.

People believe that giving red envelopes to kids can keep the children safe and bring them good luck.

Apart from giving red envelopes to children, the lucky money will also be given to elders. 

Red envelopes are usually given on Chinese New Year's eve, on the first day of the new year. 

12. Bai Nian - Visiting Relatives to Exchange Best Wishes



Traditionally on the first day of the Chinese New Year and shortly thereafter, everyone greets relatives and friends and wishes each other good luck in the new year.  

It's customary for the younger generation to visit their elders, to wish them health and longevity.

13. Watching Lion Dance and Dragon Dance

Dragon Dance

Dragon Dance

Lion dance and dragon dance is a traditional dance in China, usually performed at Chinese traditional festivals such as Chinese New Year or important occasions such as business opening events.

The lion and dragon symbolize power in Chinese culture. People believe that performing the lion dance and dragon dance can scare away evil spirits and bring good fortune. 

14. Public Celebrations at Temple Fairs

The temple fair is the most distinctive folk activity during the Chinese New Year in some cities. The most well-known and famous is Beijing's temple fairs. Most temple fairs offer cultural performances, Chinese traditional crafts, and local snacks. For foreigners, temple fairs would be definitely a good chance to experience the most original folk culture in China.

15. Praying at the Temple

The Lunar New Year season is a very busy time for temples. People usually go to the temples to burn incense and pray for blessings of happiness, prosperity, and longevity in the coming year.

It is said the first visitor to the temple in the new year will be the luckiest one, so people may queue up outside of temples on the eve of the Lunar New Year for a chance to be the first person to burn incense at midnight.  

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