The Complete Guide To Chinese New Year

thean hou temple in kuala lumpur malaysia during chinese new yea

The time of year has come again when the cities start emptying, your Chinese colleagues flee to their hometown and you randomly have ten or so days holiday at your disposal. If you are confused as to why you have been gifted this magical period of rest due to something called “Spring Festival”, then let us shed some light on the situation!

Chinese New Year, otherwise known as Spring Festival, is a holiday that celebrates the start of the new year.

“But the new year began over a month ago, how come China is so behind the times?” 

China, like many Asian countries, used to use a date system known as the lunar calendar which is based on the cycles of the moon. The moon phases vary year on year, meaning the holiday changes dates every year. Confusing right?

All you need to know is that Chinese New Year Falls on February 5th this year, so most people have the 4th to the 10th off work. This period also marks the beginning of Spring which is why the holiday is also commonly referred to as Spring Festival.

The Chinese New Year is the most important festival in the Chinese calendar and families from across the country reunite to spend the holiday participating in traditional activities.

Traditions

There are a number of different traditions associated with Spring Festival. Keep an eye out for these and try some yourself with your own friends for an authentic Chinese New Year experience.

House Cleaning

In the days leading up to the New Year families clean their houses, sweep the floors, wash their clothes and get rid of all the ‘dust’ from the old year, to make room for the new.

On New Year’s Day, it is considered bad luck to sweep or take out rubbish in case all the wealth the gods have brought that year is swept or thrown away. The same goes for washing clothes – the first day of the lunar year is the birthday of the god of water, so avoid washing your clothes or you may suffer the unfortunate fate of washing your luck away.

House decorating

Many Chinese families decorate their house in couplets, paper cuts and lanterns which are believed to bring good luck and drive away evil spirits. Most of the decorations are red as this is the luckiest of colours.

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Family reunion dinner

The vast majority of Chinese families return to their hometown to celebrate the New Year with their family and enjoy a hearty feast. Fish or chicken – which you guessed it, are said to be lucky – are the food of choice and are served with a side of dumplings and noodles which symbolise a long life. Sometimes a coin is hidden inside one of the dumplings and whoever has the good fortune to choke it down will enjoy a long and prosperous year. 

Giving Red Envelopes

Red packets or ‘hong baos’ are given to children by seniors and are stuffed with varying amounts of money. Many of the younger generations also use messenger apps such as WeChat to send red packets to each other and wish each other a happy new year.

Asian girl holding red packet,chinese new year theme.

Setting off Firecrackers

As the clock strikes 12, you will hear firecrackers exploding across China. This custom started as a way to scare off the legendary monster Nian, who was fabled to emerge at midnight each year.

The year of the Pig

2019 welcomes the year of the pig, which is the 12th Chinese zodiac animal. If you were born in the year of the pig you are believed to be curious, mischievous and clever. Previous pig years are 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007. The pig’s lucky numbers are 2,5 and 8. Their lucky colours are yellow, grey, brown or gold.

Where to travel to

You are no doubt excited to get planning trips for your week off work, but so will everyone else in China, meaning that this is one of the busiest times of the year in which to travel. Most people will be leaving the cities and heading to their smaller hometowns, which means that a lot of the larger cities take on the atmosphere of ghost towns. If you are planning on staying in China for Spring Festival, then stock up on food as many of your favourite restaurants and shops will be closed.

Most foreigners opt to leave the country and head to a warmer destination, but the prices of air travel around this time can be inflated to almost triple the price – so book well in advance.

If you want to experience a traditional Spring Festival then here are some of the best places in China to do so. Make sure you book your trains and hotel far in advance and allow plenty of extra time to travel to your destination.

Beijing

The capital is one of the best places to see in the Chinese New Year. It is one of the few cities where a sizeable number of people opt to remain during the holiday rather than return and its specially set-up temple fairs bustle with people enjoying traditional snacks, crafts and performances.

Summer Palace

Guangzhou

For a totally different experience head further south to the more temperate city of Guangzhou.

One of its main draws is its flower fair which attracts worldwide attention.

Guangzhou bridge at night in China

Harbin

To get the last of the winter activities in then head to Harbin. You can go skiing, enjoy its famous snow and ice sculpture festival and learn about local customs. Be sure to wrap up warm though as this will be a cold one.

Forbidden Palace ice sculpture at Ice Festival in Harbin, China

Xian

If culture is what you are after, then nowhere will suit you better than the historic city of Xi’an. Decorated from head to toe in all kinds of lanterns, it is a great place to experience the New Year.

Xi'an / Xian (China) - Cityscape

Where will you spend the Chinese New Year and what are your tips to avoid the crowds? Let us know in the comments below.

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