6 ways to celebrate Chinese Lunar New Year

Chinese New Year 2019

New Zealand is currently home to over 200,000 ethnic Chinese residents, many of whom remain connected to their Chinese cultural roots despite living overseas. One of the most important festivals celebrated by Overseas Chinese is Chinese New Year (春节), which commemorates the start of the new year on the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar. Chinese New Year is one of several Lunar New Years (农历新年) —new years based on the lunisolar calendar—observed in Asia, some others including Korean New Year (Seollal) in Korea and Vietnamese New Year (Tết) in Vietnam.

In 2019, Chinese/Lunar New Year falls on the 5th of February and concludes formally on the 19th of February. The evening preceding New Year’s Day (除夕), Chinese families gather for the annual reunion dinner to dine on spring rolls (春卷), dumplings (饺子), noodles (长面), steamed fish (蒸鱼), steamed chicken (蒸鸡) and rice cake (年糕), give or receive –depending on whether you are a married couple/elderly family member or an unmarried junior/child respectively– red envelopes filled with money (红包), and to watch the annual CCTV Spring Festival Gala (春节联欢晚会), the Guinness World Record’s “most watched television program in the world.”

This Chinese New Year also welcomes the “Year of the Pig” and brings an end to the “Year of the Dog.” In Chinese culture, there are twelve auspicious animals — the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig – commonly known as the Chinese zodiac animals (生肖), that are used to represent different years. Each of the twelve zodiac animals are associated with different attributes and characteristics. It is believed that people born in a given year resemble the personality of that year’s animal.

If you turn 12, 24, 36, 48, 60, 72, 84, 96 this year, or if you will be born this year, congratulations – you are/were born in the “Year of the Pig,” and 2019 is your Zodiac Year (本命年). Those born in the “Year of the Pig” are associated with being diligent, compassionate, responsible and generous. They are goal-setters and work hard to achieve those goals. However, they can also be easily fooled as they are trusting and unsuspecting of those around them.

If you are interested in celebrating Chinese New Year alongside your Chinese friends and colleagues, or if you simply want to learn more about Chinese culture, there are some easy things you can do to make the workplace and/or home and more culturally-inclusive, culturally-aware and festive for those celebrating.

  1. Recognise that Chinese New Year is celebrated in many different parts of Asia, so unless you are speaking directly to a Chinese person, saying “Happy Lunar New Year” as opposed to “Happy Chinese New Year” will be more all-encompassing and inclusive.
  2. Some popular Chinese New Year Greetings this year, which can be used in emails, letters or in person conversations, are as follows:
    1. xīn nián kuài lè (新年快乐) or Happy New Year
    2. zhū nián dà jí (猪年大吉) or Wish you luck in the Year of the Pig
  3. Enjoy a Chinese meal or potluck. Some must-have dishes include Chinese Dumplings, Spring Rolls, Noodles and if you can find it – rice cake!
  4. Wear red and/or decorate the house and/or workplace with red decorations. Red is an extremely lucky colour for the Chinese, especially during the new year period.
  5. If you want to go above and beyond and really impress your Chinese friends and colleagues, give them a Chinese red packet/envelope to take home to their kids. At this time of the year, you can find Chinese red envelopes or “hong bao 红包” at any Chinese supermarket. The envelopes can be filled with a gold coin, a paper note if you are feeling generous, or even some chocolate coins. The more Chinese red envelopes you give, the more good luck you receive, according to Chinese belief.
  6. Be sensitive to the fact that some people might not celebrate Lunar New Year. Perhaps they are already a seventh generation New Zealander who is no longer connected with their Chinese/Asian roots, perhaps they were not raised in a Chinese/Asian household despite looking Chinese/Asian, or perhaps for some other personal reason. This is a time of the year to demonstrate one’s cultural-awareness, but part of being culturally-aware is to recognize that not every Chinese/Asian person is the same; and therefore, we should not to make anyone feel awkward about or uncomfortable with our cultural-enthusiasm.