Chinese New Year is just around the corner! This year’s Chinese New Year will be celebrated on February 16. Over the course of these few weeks, I am writing a series of posts to help introduce this great holiday.
After the reunion dinner on the eve of Chinese New Year, the fifteen day long new year celebration finally kicks off. For the first couple of days, people spend their time going to the homes of family to 拜年, which means to “pay a New Year call” or “wish a happy New Year”. Families leave their houses to visit the most senior members of their extended family and then work their way down the family hierarchy (great-grandparents, then grandparents, followed by parents, and then uncles, cousins, etc.). After the first few days, they will begin to pay a New Year call at the homes of friends and coworkers as well.
As the visitors stop at each house, the host will have prepared 年货, or snacks prepared for Chinese New Year. In southeast China, where I lived for five years, common snacks included peanuts, rice crackers, sunflower seeds, chocolates, and candies. Tea is usually served as well.
When families arrive at the homes, they are usually greeted by the hosts with 恭喜发财！This means, “May you be happy and prosperous!” or, more literally, “Congratulations on the wealth (that I hope you receive in the new year)”. If children are in the visiting family, they will respond to the host with a 红包拿来！That means, “Get out the red envelopes,” and is the children’s way of reminding their elders that they should have a HongBao, or red envelope with money inside ready to give them!
Once the HongBao filled with money are distributed to the youngsters, everyone sits down to enjoy the snacks and discuss both the happenings of the previous year as well as hopes for the new year. As everyone is off of work and out of school for at least the first five days or so, this is a time of relaxation and refreshment before taking on the new year.
Many of the fifteen days have special significance as well. Some celebrate the supposed birthdays of the god of wealth or the Jade Emperor, while the final day is called Lantern Festival. On Lantern Festival, families eat rice dumplings and walk through the streets at night carrying lighted paper lanterns before finally releasing them to float away – much like miniature hot-air balloons!
Chinese New Year is truly a great time of year! It is traditionally a time of family fun and relaxation, and it is also filled with different symbolic customs and rituals. The symbolism is truly worth mentioning…