Chinese New Year, more widely known and celebrated as Lunar New Year, is a holiday I look forward to celebrating each year with my family. This year, Chinese New Year will take place on February 5th, celebrating the year of the Boar! Unlike the Gregorian calendar’s annual fixed “New Year” date of January 1st, the Lunar New Year follows the moon cycle and the date varies each year.
Growing up in a Chinese and Filipino household, we have always practiced traditional Chinese customs in all aspects of life, especially during the holiday’s. I am immensely grateful for my Chinese and Filipino heritage as both cultures are heavily centered around the importance and togetherness of family. My family honors the new year by gathering our relatives under one roof for an evening of celebration. The moment you open the door, you’ll immediately be greeted with the aromas of multiple dishes cooking all at once, see the welcoming sight of family and hear joyful “Gong Xi Xin Nian” (Happy New Year) from all directions.
According to Chinese New Year Legend
Legend of “Nian”: According to Chinese legend, the “Nian” was a monster that would come down from the mountains on the first day of each new year to feed on the villagers, their livestock and crops. Over time, the Chinese realized it was afraid of loud noises, the color red and fire. The villagers would ornate their front doors with red decorations and red lanterns, wear red clothing, light firecrackers and perform lion dances in order to scare the Nian away.
Chinese Zodiac: There are 12 zodiac animals starting with the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and boar. Both Malachi and I were born in the year of the rooster. A quick online search will show you your zodiac animal depending on the year you were born.
There are many different versions of the zodiac legend but my favorite is the story of the zodiac race. It’s said that Buddha invited all the animals to a race and in front the finish line was a roaring river. Some of zodiac animals strategically raced across the river and placed higher on the zodiac order, while others were not as smart and finished closer to the bottom. The rat won first, followed by the ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and finally the boar.
“Hong Bao”/Lucky Money aka Red Envelopes: If you’ve ever observed CNY, chances are you’ve seen Red Envelopes being given out by elders to the younger generations. The Red Envelopes are called “Hong Bao” and are filled with “lucky money.” The act of giving hong bao represents a wish from the elders: a wish of fortune, good lucky and prosperity.
Next up, NEW YEAR FOOD!
The food preparation process alone can take two or more days depending on the number of guests attending the celebration. Our family “officially” celebrated a bit early this year to accommodate work and school schedules. The menu for our second celebration, which will take place this evening on CNY eve, consists of many traditional CNY foods, including:
Noodles symbolize longevity
Dumplings symbolize wealth
Steamed Fish symbolizes surplus and wealth
Spring Rolls symbolizes wealth
Lettuce Wraps symbolize fortune
Steamed Chicken symbolizes wholeness
Nian Gao symbolizes prosperity year over year
Tang Yuan symbolizes the closeness of family
Turnip or Radish Cakes symbolizes fortune
Quick Tip: If you’ve been invited to a friend’s Chinese New Year celebration, a customary practice as a guest is to bring fruits for the host family. In my experience, I’ve seen boxes of apples, oranges, pears or large fruit baskets gifted at Chinese New Year celebrations. Other gift ideas could be an assortment of teas, vitamins or “Nian Gao.”
Is Chinese New Year a big deal?
YES. Universities, grade schools and factories close for 2-3 weeks to let individuals observe and celebrate CNY. Many businesses around the world will announce and can expect product queue delays up to 15 days as their manufacturing and shipping partners may be closed to celebrate the New Year.
What’s your favorite food?
My favorite dishes are the spring rolls and steamed fish.
Are there traditional drinks?
Wine. Lots and lots of wine. You can cheers by saying: “Gan Bei!”
What should I wear?
For most celebrations, you will be fine with just a new, red outfit. Depending on the formality of the event, you may have to find or borrow a traditional “Qi Pao.” Avoid black and white colored clothing as they both have negative meanings in Chinese culture. In other words, just think “red.”
Is it just a Chinese celebration?
Nope! Lunar New Year is celebrated worldwide by many cultures!
Why does the zodiac animal change each year?
The zodiac animals rotate through each year in a specific order (see zodiac animal legend portion above).
In conclusion, Chinese New Year is a celebration of the year passed and a tremendous, joyous welcome for the coming new year. For the Chinese, CNY is synonymous with reunion, family gathering, good fortune and prosperity. I hope this helped answer Chinese New Year questions some of you may have had. Happy Chinese New Year, Gong Xi Xin Nian!
All photos are personal photos unless otherwise noted.