Chinese New Year traditions are a rich part of the culture. The new years is annually marked by the Spring Festival, a 16-day celebration dating all the way back to the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600 BC – c. 1100 BC). A myriad of traditions symbolize the event including fireworks, red paper cutouts, festive foods and more. Below you will find some key traditions, their origins and meanings.

Traditional Origin Story of Chinese New Year

The origin of Spring Festival has a number of legends, but the most widely accepted involved a beast and an old man. The tale tells of the beast Nian (pronounced nyen), a monstrous thing that rose from the depths the last evening of the last lunar month (New Year’s eve), to devour cattle and people. Each year people would hide away in their homes, awake all night out of fear. One New Year’s eve, a high-spirited old man came to stay at a home, warned of the dreaded beast’s likely return, he joyfully remained in wait. Upon the beast’s arrival, it found the home covered in red sheets of paper and adorned with many red lanterns. The old man laughingly emerged from the house dressed head to toe in red, and set off firecrackers at the beast’s feet! Nian, frightened by the color red and the noise of the fireworks, turned in fear and returned to the depths. Thus the Chinese New Year traditions of red colors and fireworks were born.

Chinese New Year Reunion Dinner

As many of the Chinese New Year traditions are a national mainstay, so are many of them unique to the different regions and 56 ethnic tribes of China. One tradition that rings throughout all of China during the Spring Festival is that of the reunion dinner. Whether it is the Northern Chinese families enjoying jiaozi (jyow-zuh; steamed dumplings), or in the South having niangao (nyen-gow; New Year rice cakes), this dinner is not an option for the families in China, resulting in a relative shutdown of business in China for the duration of the holiday.

Chinese Tradition of Red Envelopes

Photo credit: Poa Mosyuen, used with permission under Creative Commons license
Photo credit: Poa Mosyuen, used with permission under Creative Commons license

Children, colleagues, and even service professionals, such as a barber, doorman, etc., receive ornate envelopes (red of course) with various amounts of money from parents, grandparents, and customers respectively, along with blessings and grand wishes of a prosperous and healthy New Year.

New Year Tradition of House Cleaning

Almost all of the traditions of the Spring Festival are to foster good luck and shun anything that might ward it away. Prior to the New Year, homes must be thoroughly cleaned, so that on the actual day, all brooms, sweepers and dust pans may be tucked away, as not to sweep or brush away the good luck. To ensure there is no residual luck swept out of the house the next days, all rubbish is to be swept to the middle of the room, then carried out, not swept out the threshold.

恭喜发财! Gongxi facai! (gohng-shee fah-tsai; Wishing you happiness and prosperity!)

Learn more about Chinese New Year

[gdlr_styled_box content_color=”#2e383a” background_color=”#f2f2f2″]This is a guest post from one of our board members, James Dressler. James is a Licensed Financial Professional in Olathe, KS. He is also a former Chinese Lingust for the US Air Force and serves the local Chinese community through professional and volunteer services.[/gdlr_styled_box]


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