The meaning behind Chinese New Year’s customs
Chinese New Year is the most widely celebrated Chinese holiday across the globe. This year, it falls on February 1, 2022, and will begin the Year of the Tiger. As a holiday that goes back thousands of years, there are a wide variety of Chinese New Year traditions that have been passed down. Some are based on myth, some on symbolism, some on superstitions, and some on wordplay. Each individual may choose to celebrate a little differently based on preferences, beliefs and location, but almost everyone spends time with family and eats Chinese New Year food.
FYI, Chinese New Year is also referred to as Lunar New Year, a term that includes other cultures that celebrate the start of the new year using the same calendar system. In China, it’s also known as Spring Festival. “Lunar New Year celebrates the first days of spring on the lunar calendar,” says Leung. “Historically, celebrating Lunar New Year in China was meant to pray for good blessings on farming in the new year – hence, worshiping ancestors has always been a critical component.”
Whether in China or elsewhere in the world, these are some of the most common Chinese New Year traditions and the meaning behind them. And it’s no accident that we’re giving you eight – eight is the luckiest number in Chinese, since it sounds similar to the Chinese word for prosperity.
Clean up to prepare for the new year
Each year is seen as a fresh, new beginning, so starting it off with a clean house is important. Giannina Ong, editor-in-chief of Mochi Magazine, the longest-running online publication for Asian American women, advises that the timing of your clean-up is crucial. “Leading up to the New Year, you should clean as much as possible to clear out the bad luck and any leftover ill feelings from the previous year,” she says. “But on Lunar New Year itself, you’re not supposed to clean at all. The new year brings luck, and cleaning will remove that. So no wiping, no sweeping, no showering, and leave the dirty dishes from that delicious New Year’s feast in the sink for the night!”
Decorate to invite good fortune
In terms of decoration, Ong says “everything is red because a fire sign symbolises new life and prosperity.” The origins of red’s lucky properties may stem from a legend about a beast named Nian (an approximate homophone for the Chinese word for year), who appeared on New Year’s Eve to wreak havoc. People figured out that Nian was afraid of the colour red, and to this day, people hang red lanterns, couplets written on red paper, and the character fu (meaning good fortune) on red paper. That character is usually hung upside down – the word for turning something upside down, or pouring, also sounds like the word for arriving, so an upside-down fu symbol invites good luck to arrive. Flowers and kumquat fruit trees are also symbolic of prosperity, so after cleaning, you can bring some blossoms into your house for extra good luck.
In addition to these Chinese New Year traditions, check out these tips from feng shui experts to keep the good vibes going all year long.