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Chinese New Year Tradition: Big Money, Big Food, Big Luck

Updated on June 29, 2011

Chinese New Year

As described in many articles, Chinese celebrate Lunar New Year which falls on different dates between January 21 and February 20. This year it falls on 14 Februar,2010. It will be year 4708 and it is a year of metal tiger.

For Chinese, the new lunar year is the biggest event thorough the year. Originally it is called Spring Festival, it symbolized a time of renewed fertility of the earth. It is time to hope for a new happy and prosperous year. To pragmatic Chinese, what could bring greater happiness and prosperity than big money, sumptuous food and drink, and a good luck? “To be full without overflowing is the way to keep riches”. Traditionally the Spring Festival is celebrated 15 days long.

I grew up as Chinese overseas, and there are probably some variations with others who celebrate in other countries. However, some traditions, we still practice are:

Big Money

Chinese believe that “if a little money does not go out, great money will not come in”.

Before the year ends, all debt must be cleared to avoid shame and misfortune.

And after being slaved for money for a whole year, people lavish it upon Chinese New Year celebrations.

Sweeping dust outwards
Sweeping dust outwards
"Fu" for good luck
"Fu" for good luck

Big Sweep

Chinese believe that good fortune will come to a clean house. So there will be a complete cleaning to big sweep all possible misfortune carriers. All dust must be swept away, walls, windows, doors are washed or even repainted. Everything must be clean and done before New Year’s Eve, that’s when the good fortune are around and come. Sweeping after New Year’s eve means sweeping a good fortune and no one wants that. It do no harm to clean house and one can reduce some calories before starting a big feast on the coming new year days. :) 

Lucky Symbol

You will see the Chinese character Fu Dao (Luck arrives) is displayed on the wall and doors, this means that the owner are hoping for luck. Legend says that it once during Ming Dynasty, while sightseeing, the emperor saw some posters on doors picturing a barefoot woman with a lemon pressed to her bosom. For him it was an insult regarding the empress large feet. So he distributed the Character of “Fu” to the house which did not insult him. All families in the house without the Fu characters were massacred. From then on, people regard it for good omen to display the Fu on their doors.

No Sharp Ends

Chinese people kept away all instruments with sharp edges like knives, scissors and needle, pencils so that no one get hurt during the festival, which would mean bad luck for the new year. Fragile item such as crockery, cups, glasses, mirrors will be handled carefully because no one wants anything break which will means breaking up of family, bad luck or death.

Also: Don’t use a sharp tongue and take care of your heart as well.

New Year’s Eve Feast

On New Year’s Eve Family gather and the food is very important. There will be abundant food. Food leftover symbolizes that the family’s wealth is good and there is a leftover from the ending year to be brought to the new year. Children may stay awake the whole night.

Chinese symbolises everything also in food. Commonly we also have fish (for good life) noodle (for long life), round eggs for eternal relationship, and sea-moss (homonym with "fa chai" for prosperity). The Chinese sea-moss is a hair-like moss. This is the only food I always cannot take because it looks really like human hair, and the moss is also very long. I had to pledge for sorry to my grandmother.

Family Visit

The first and second day is normally only for family visits. After that day they may visit friends and other relatives. Visit started based on family hierarchy, e.g. grandparents first, then first uncle, second uncle and so on. Each family members will greet each other with new year’s greetings and good wishes. Guests may bring gifts and red pockets. Children will receive red pockets with money.

The host will offers fruits, drinks, cake, sweets or or other small food.


Gifts are brought when visiting family or friends. Cake of the New Year is a favourite gift for friends and relatives. Besides that, usual gifts are oranges, cakes, sweets or candies, or tray of prosperity. And of course red pockets, for those who are eligible. 

Money in Red

This is one significant attributes to the Chinese New Year. It is traditional money-giving. The gift of money is wrapped in a red pocket, in Chinese called Hung Bao. It symbolizes luck and prosperity for the giver and the recipient. Normally it is given by parents and elder generation to unmarried children and children of relatives/friends during the New Year calls. Married couples give it to their unmarried friends and their younger brother sisters and cousins.

Amount of money should be an even numbers. Children will usually greet with the New Year Greeting while clasping their hands in front and moving them up and down. Recipient is expected to receive the red packet happily with a “loud” good-wishes (it should be loud and merry new year, after all. children will be looking forward to a fat money-pocket, and thus could be loud).

All in Red

Yes, actually not only money in red, but nearly everything. Red color means joy and luck. (I know to Western red spells danger, doesn’t it?). Red color is also believed to spell bad fortune and devils. During Spring Festivals, there are gifts are wrapped in red, money in red envelope, red lanterns, red flowers, people put on a red dress, houses are decorated with red papers, some parts may be painted red.

Black color is bad and considered unlucky, and must be avoided during New Year celebration. As a child, I did also wear “all-red” with red clothes, red shoes, red bags, but still lucky that no one painted my black hair into red.

New Year Greetings

A universal form of Chinese New Year Greeting is Gong Xi Fa Cai (Congratulation and Good Fortune)

Other forms of greetings are:

Xing Nian Kuai Le (Happy New Year!)

Xin Chun Yu Kuai! ( Happy Spring Festival!)

Wan Shi Ru Yi (prosperous New Year)

Shen Ti Jian Kang (good health)

Besides the greeting phrase, Chinese home greets you with more good wishes on silk scrolls, wooden boards, strips of red papers. Often there are decorative figures representing happiness, success and longevity. Often host will serve guests with an octagonal tray (because the numbers eight sounds like prosper, in Cantonese), it is the tray of prosperity.

Tray of Prosperity
Tray of Prosperity
New Year Cake
New Year Cake

Tray of Prosperity

Is used to serve guests coming during family-visit.

The tray contains sweets, cakes, and dates each in outer sectors. In the middle is melon seeds. Sweetmeats for good wishes of sweet life; the cake or gao (means high) for a successful life; the name of a dates, zao zi, for good offsprings, the melon seeds for prosperity.

Cake of the New Year

The cake has a circular form and is made of rice flour and sugar which gives it a brown color and stickiness. For Chinese the cake is a symbol of higher status or better life. Its round shape and stickiness represent a never-ending relationship, and its sweetness represents sweet life.

Food Offering

It is common to make an offering to the ancestor. It is gesture of remembrance, respect and gratitude. Dishes and fruits are places in front of their small altars (normally there are small altars with their photos placed their) along with incense burner, candles and sometimes spirit money (so that the dead ones have enough money too). Another thing is to make a food offering the the earth and heaven to wish for good harvest and weather- Bowl of rice, chopsticks, tea, wine, fruits are placed at the altar.

So last but not least, for those who will celebrate, I wish you a great celebration with family and friends. A happy, lucky and prosperous new year! Gong Xi Fa Cai! Zu Ni Wan Shi Ru Yi! Shen Ti Jian Kang!


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    • bekaze profile image

      bekaze 8 years ago from Germany

      fishee,giving someone a red pocket is just the same with wishing someone a lot of fortune and wealth. you can only wish someone fortune, but you cannot really give it to someone.

    • profile image

      fishee 8 years ago

      what does it mean if you open a red pocket and there's no fortune in there?