Lunar New Year is around the corner, so it's about time we dig in and find out what some of the customs and traditions are that people practice during this holiday, as well as what not to do. This year is going to be the year of the rabbit. So if you're born in a year of the rabbit, pay extra attention, because this is going to be your year!
Lunar New Year, Chinese New Year, Spring Festival or in Chinese '農曆新年(nónglì xīnnián)' or '春節(chūnjié)' is an Asian holiday that is celebrated during the first fifteen days of a new year on the lunar calendar. Traditionally this holiday was created to honor households, deities and ancestors.
During LNY (Lunar New year) families get together to celebrate their reunion, get rid of the bad luck of the previous year and welcome the new year. It is the most important holiday in Asian culture, because of which everyone gets some days off. Don't expect to receive mail these days and plan throwing your garbage out ahead, because EVERYONE is on a break.
Before the New Year
The month before the official holiday starts, people start to conduct their 'annual cleaning', in which they clean their house from top to bottom, no corner can be left untouched. In the last days leading up to the new year, everyone is busy preparing the many foods that are going to be eaten during the New Year's dinner. They do this well in advance too, because it is traditionally believed that using knives on the first day of the year brings bad luck.
New Year's Eve
On the last day of the year, families get together to have their 'reunion dinner', which is very similar to a Christmas dinner in western countries. During this dinner, families eat foods that symbolize fortune, longevity and prosperity. Many of the dishes are lucky because their name is similar to another Chinese word for abundance or prosperity. Here is a list of some foods that are consumed and their meaning.
Fish - abundance - the pronunciation of the Chinese word for 'fish' is the same as the word for 'abundance'
Dumplings - prosperity - the more you eat, the more money you will make in the new year
Oranges, kumquats, tangerines - good fortune - the round shape symbolizes reunion
Sweet rice balls (湯圓 tāngyuán) - the Chinese name resembles the Chinese word for reunion (團圓 tuányuán)
Year cake (年糕 niángāo) - the Chinese name is pronounced exactly like the word for 'high year' (年高 niángāo), which symbolizes that the next year will be better than the previous
Lucky colors and signs
There are many traditions to follow to welcome the good luck into your home and keep the bad luck out. As I mentioned before, everyone cleans their house before LNY, and definitely not during, all in order to welcome good luck and get rid of bad luck.
Right before LNY a lot of people also go shopping for new clothes. All the stores have sale and most stores sell a lot of red clothes, shoes, underwear, accessories and whatnot. It is believed that you will be extra lucky during the new year if you wear red underwear during the year of "your animal". For example, this year is the year of the rabbit, people born in a year of the rabbit will be very lucky if they wear red underwear now.
During Chinese New Year people also light fireworks. There are multiple types of fireworks that are very popular, but the most popular ones are not the very pretty ones, but those with the most and loudest bang! This is to scare away the evil spirits of the past year.
Kind of like with Christmas, people also give gifts to friends and family. Some very popular gifts are tangerines and sweets, like pineapple cake. This however, is not the most well-known gift during LNY. It is a tradition to give your young children, or when you grow up, your old parents and your grandparents, a red envelope with money, or a 紅包 (hóngbāo). The amount of money to put in this envelope is very specific. You can never give someone an amount that has the number 4 in it, because this is a very unlucky number associated with death. The amount of money also depends on the importance, age and status of the person you are giving it too. And, the money has to be fresh from the bank, no one can have used it yet. So before you give someone a red envelope, be sure to ask a Taiwanese friend if the amount you're giving is okay!
New Year Wishes
With the start of the new year people wish their family and friends prosperity and abundance for the upcoming year. A lot of people also walk around wishing their neighbors a happy new year. Here you can find some phrases that are used a lot, as well as their meaning.
新年快樂 - xīnnián kuàilè - Happy New Year!
恭喜發財 - gōngxǐ fācái - Wish you to be prosperous!
年年有餘 - Nián nián yǒuyú - Have a more exciting year!
萬事如意 - Wànshì rúyì - Best wishes
We are absolutely lucky to have celebrated Lunar New Year for the last two years. In our first year of living in Taiwan, a big Taiwanese family came over to our house to have a 'reunion meal'. During this time we made dumplings together or as we say in Chinese '包水餃 (bāo shuǐjiǎo). We had an absolutely delicious meal together and as cherry on top, the grandma of the family gave all of us kids a beautiful handmade hóngbāo, of course with fresh bills.
In our second year in Taiwan we invited American friends to come over and make dumplings with us. My mom and I cooked a delicious Taiwanese meal (with help of a cookbook). Together we had an amazing time and created beautiful memories. See more about the way we celebrated in the video down below.
15 days after LNY, Lantern Festival is celebrated in Taiwan. This year that will be on February 5th. You can read more about the traditional festival, as well as the best way to celebrate it in Taipei in my blog post next week Wednesday. Subscribe to my page to receive a notification!
Do you have any experience with celebrating Lunar New Year? I would love to hear about your experiences, so leave a comment if you do!