New Zealand is currently home to over 230,000 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), sometimes known as Lunar New Year, 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. Others include Korean New Year (Seollal) in Korea and Vietnamese New Year (Tết) in Vietnam.
In 2020, Chinese/Lunar New Year falls on the 25th of January and concludes formally on the 8th of February. On the evening preceding New Year’s Day, known as Spring Festival Eve (除夕), Chinese families gather for the annual reunion dinner (年夜饭) 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). On this evening, married couples and adult family members give unmarried youth and the elderly red envelopes filled with money (红包). These red envelopes are given and received as symbols of good luck and prosperity in the new year. At around midnight, families congregate in front of the television 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 welcomes the “Year of the Rat,” the of the Chinese Zodiac Animals, and brings an end to the “Year of the Pig.” 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 were born after January 24th 2020, or if you turn 12, 24, 36, 48, 60, 72, 84, 96 or 108 this year, congratulations – you are born in the “Year of the Rat,” and 2020 is your Zodiac Year (本命年). Those born in the “Year of the Rat” are associated with being optimistic and energetic. They are bright, fast thinkers that are well-liked by those around them. Although they can be quite stubborn when it comes to their own opinions, they are also sensitive to other’s emotions.
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.
- 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” is more all-encompassing and inclusive.
- Some popular Chinese New Year Greetings this year, which can be used in emails, letters or in person conversations, are as follows:
- xīn nián kuài lè (新年快乐) or Happy New Year
- shǔnián dà jí (猪年大吉) or Wish you luck in the Year of the Rat
- Enjoy a Chinese meal or potluck. Some must-have dishes include Chinese Dumplings, Spring Rolls, Noodles and if you can find it – sticky rice cake!
- Wear red and/or decorate the house or workplace with red decorations. Red is an extremely lucky colour for Chinese people, especially during the new year period.
- 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 for their kids. At this time of the year, you can find Chinese red envelopes or “hong bao 红包” at any of your local banks for free. The envelopes can be filled with a gold coin, a paper note if you are feeling generous, or even some chocolate coins. According to Chinese beliefs, the more Chinese red envelopes you give, the more good luck you will receive in return.
- 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 recognise 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.