- Chinese New Year 2024 – Saturday 10th February
- Years of the Dragon: 1916, 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000 and 2012
- Lucky Numbers for Dragons: 1, 6 and 7
- Lucky Colours for Dragons: Gold, Silver and Grey
Born in Hong Kong but living in Scotland for almost 40 years, I am grateful to have received many Chinese traditions passed down by my second generation immigrant parents.
With Chinese New Year approaching, I wanted to share some of the traditions that have been in my family, which I now proudly share with my children hoping to preserve the value of our culture for generations to come.
Chinese culture is all about symbolism
Things we do in the days leading up to Chinese New Year:
- Dust and clean the house thoroughly
“But we do this on a daily/weekly basis?”– Right! However, Chinese New Year celebration period last for around 2 weeks so we don’t do big cleans during this time!
Cultural beliefs: Cleaning, sweeping (hoovering) or taking out the rubbish is avoided on the first few days of Chinese New Year because it is considered as sweeping the good luck away!
- Get a haircut and trim your nails
Cultural beliefs: Chinese people do not cut their hair or nails on or shortly after Chinese New Year as it implies cutting away your wealth! So the majority of people will be preparing themselves for grooming in the days preceding.
- Preparing “lucky” homemade treats
My mum makes ALOT of Nian Gao (Sweet Rice Cake) and gifts them to family and friends. The translation of Nian Gao is “year cake” and also sounds like “higher year” which symbolises a more prosperous year ahead and for personal growth.
Mum’s Nian Gao is made with 3 simple ingredients; rice flour, glutinous rice flour and brown sugar. Once set, it can be cut to small pieces to be pan fried or steamed and ready to eat!
Other homemade treats are:
Almond Cookies which symbolises the shape of a coin and brings good fortune.
Chinese Glutinous Rice Balls (Tangyuan) – eating this dessert on Chinese New Year is believed to bring the family together.
- Chinese New Year’s Eve Dinner (Tuen Neen Fan)
Traditionally Tuen Neen Fan (also known as a reunion dinner) takes place on the night before Chinese New Year and it is when the entire family gets together to conclude the year before the beginning of next year. It is a complete feast featuring dishes that are rich in symbolic meaning.
Cultural beliefs: Whether you are dining out or cooking at home, the number of dishes served is to be even numbers but especially avoiding 4 or 7 dishes! The number 4 translate and sounds like the word “death” and is regarded as unlucky. The superstition of 7 dishes relates to the ceremonial ritual of a 7 course feast which is only eaten at one’s funeral wake. This is a no-go for all meals throughout the year!
- Buy new pyjamas and clothes
Cultural beliefs: Wearing new pyjamas on the eve of Chinese New Year is believed to bring good luck as you welcome the new year. Wearing new clothes on Chinese New Year symbolises a fresh beginning to the year ahead. Chinese people believe the colour red represents luck and prosperity hence most people will wear red during the celebration period.
- Tangerine bath (my kids’ favourite part)
Yes you read that right! The Chinese word for tangerine closely resembles luck and wealth. You will probably see around January/February time most bigger supermarkets will have lots of leafy tangerines on the shelves. My mum usually prepares a big pot of water boiled with leafy tangerines and pomelo leaves for around 30 minutes or until you can smell the aroma. Once cooled down, she brings me the pot (I should really start doing this myself!) and on the eve of Chinese New Year, I heat it back up to warm temperature and add some into our baths. We also shower/bath & wash our hair before midnight on the eve and don’t shower on the day of Chinese New Year as it means washing the good luck away.
Cultural beliefs: Bathe in tangerine and pomelo leaves water washes away the bad luck and gets rid of bad spirits.
- Buying fruits and flowers
Once the house is clean I usually buy some fresh red flowers or plants and some lucky fruits to display at home.
I would also gift my parents and my in-laws a bouquet of flowers, leafy tangerines and pomelo. Gifting around Chinese New Year is all about the meaning of the gift rather than quantity or value.
Tangerines and pomelo are regarded as lucky fruits
Red Envelope (Lai See)
There are many names for the red envelope, I call it lai see – some people call it red packet, red pocket or traditionally Hongbao which just translate back to “red packet”. The lai see is usually red and contains money and handed out to friends and family for luck.
The tradition of giving lai see is only from married individuals and elders giving to younger and unmarried individuals to bless them with good luck, fortune and happiness.
There are some etiquette around giving and receiving lai see which is important to highlight as you do not want to be disrespectful.
- Giving and receiving lai see should be with both hands as a sign of courtesy.
- You should always say thank you along with a traditional Chinese New Year greeting (身体健康 – san tai gin hong – which means “good health” or 新年快乐 – sun nin faai lok – which means “Happy New Year”).
- Never give lai see to family members who are older than you. You can give money as a lucky gesture but don’t put the money inside the lai see.
- It is impolite to open or peep in the lai see in front of the giver to see how much you have received!
In summary, Chinese New Year is a special time filled with family gatherings, tradition, and meaningful symbols. It’s a time for coming together, enjoying special foods, and exchanging lai see. In Chinese culture, everything has a special meaning during this time, adding to the joy and richness of the celebration. I hope my children can learn and remember the significance of these traditions in bringing happiness and prosperity, as I do!
恭喜發財 (Kung Hei Fat Choi) to all my family and friends. Wishing everyone good health, good wealth and a prosperous year of the Dragon!