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Chinese New Year Traditions and Symbols

Updated on October 30, 2015
Sydney Chinese New Year Parade
Sydney Chinese New Year Parade | Source
Sydney Chinese New Year  Parade
Sydney Chinese New Year Parade | Source

Chinese New Year is the oldest and most important festival in China and in the Chinese community around the world. Chinese New Year is also called Lunar New Year, as the Chinese work on a lunar calendar rather than our solar calendar.

The lunar calendar means the date of their new year alters compared with our as it always occurs on a new moon. it typically occurs between January 21 and February 21. It is also referred to as the Spring Festival since it is the beginning of the Spring.

Traditionally, the festival lasts for 15 days, but modern celebrations usually lasts only for 2 to 3 days.

Chinese New Year Practices

There are lots of traditional ways to make the New Year a lucky one. Today many people do not really believe the traditions,but they still have respect for old customs.

Traditions change from family to family from town to town, with two major languages many minority groups and regions, there are a lot of variations to every rule and customs, but here are a few Chinese customs and traditions that many follow.

  • Preparations for the New Year's festival begin several days beforehand. They thoroughly clean their houses from top to bottom. They do not clean on New Year's Day for fear that good fortune will be swept away.
  • The Chinese repay their debts, buy new clothes and shoes to wear on the first day of the New Year.
  • People buy new clothes in time for the New Year. It is considered lucky to wear all new clothing and shoes on New Year's Day.
  • If you need a haircut, you must have it just before the New Year Festival.
  • During the New Year Festival,everyone tries to be kind and friendly to everybody.

There are also many symbolic rituals associated with the Chinese New Year for optimizing the good fortune that his period brings. Here are some of them:

  • Sharp knives are safely put away lest they cut through the potential luck that is now prevalent at this time.
  • Small orange trees, which produce miniature oranges are purchase because an abudance of fruit represents wealth and prosperity ahead.
  • Chinese people believe that oranges bring good luck at New Year. Oranges and tangerines are traditional gifts for friends and family at New Year festivities. They are also favourite temple and cemetery offering to ancestors dring the two week long celebrations. Tangerines with their leaves still attached ensure that family ties remain secure.

  • Traditional Chinese home has blooming plants and flowers at New Year's celebration to symbolize rebirth and new growth. it is considered especially lucky if the household plant blooms on New Year's Day for this foretells a year of prosperity.

The following are popular plants for decorations in Chinese New Year.

  • Peach blossom (symbolizes good luck)
  • Plum blossom (symbolizes good luck)
  • Kumquat plants (symbolizes prosperity and happiness)
  • Narcissus and Chrysanthemum (symbolizes good health and longevity)
  • Bamboo (A plant used for anytime of year for its compatibility.)

Chinese families give presents of money to their children at New Year.
Chinese families give presents of money to their children at New Year.

The Red Envelope

Another important customs at this time is the giving of money in red envelope packets by married couples to unmarried relatives friends and children. These are called "Laisee//lycee or hungpow/Hong bao" .

The money comes in a red envelop with good luck characters on the front. red is a lucky colour. It helps to make the children happy in the year ahead and are believed to bring good luck.

The Kitchen God and his wife.
The Kitchen God and his wife.

The Kitchen God

The Kitchen God look over families and to make reports of who has been good and who has been bad. It is believe that one week before the New Year, the Kitchen God goes to heaven to tell the Jade Emperor if the family has behaved well.

Five days before New Year, may households offer a sacrifice to the Kitchen God. The family puts sweet, sticky food, like sticky rice or lotus seed sweet in front of a picture of the Kitchen God.

There is two purpose to this, they hope the food will make him give a "sweet" report to the emperor and to stick his mouth together so he can't tell anyone about all questionable deeds he has witnessed.

Chinese decorations

Chinese New Year pictures often have oranges in them. This is because, in Chinese the word oranges sounds the same as the word for 'gold' and also for 'lucky.'

The Chinese word for 'fish' sounds like the word for 'many' or 'extra'. Pictures with babies and fishes are popular. They are a wish for a family to have lots of children.

Papercuts are another decoration. People cut delicate pictures out of coloured paper. Then they stick the pictures onto a window so that the light shows through.

The Lantern festival on the first full moon of the New Year marks the end of the festivities. It celebrates the return of light, the coming of spring and the beginning of the growing season. Strings of lanterns of all shapes, sizes and colours are hung out to decorate homes and public places.

Besides the family decorations there are also colourful community events, parades which highlights dragon and lion dances.

" Kung Hei Fat Choy " ( Happy New Year)

Sydney Chinese New Year
Sydney Chinese New Year | Source

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    • Lita C. Malicdem profile image

      Lita C. Malicdem 7 years ago from Philippines

      Kung Hei Fat Choy! This year's Chinese New Year makes me sad. I had a brother-in-law, from the Wei family, who died last August, 2009. This is our first New Year without our dear brother. He left my sister with their 2 children aged 21 and 19.

    • MM Del Rosario profile image

      MM Del Rosario 8 years ago from NSW, Australia

      Hi John, I have a Chinese Ancestry that is why I am very much interested in the Chinese culture.....Thanks for your visit....

    • johncheung profile image

      johncheung 8 years ago from Hong Kong

      Are you sure you are "born and raised in the Philippines, now living in Sydney"? You sure know a lot about Chinese custom. Great work, great hub.

    • oparu profile image

      oparu 8 years ago from Jamaica Plain, MA

      Very thorough! Good job on the various symbols. I'm Chinese Canadian and wanted to brush up on this stuff. :)