Ten Top Tips to Help You Celebrate Asian Lunar New Year’s…Everywhere!

  1. For one thing, remember, although China is the biggest celebrant, the holiday is NOT “Chinese” New Years: the holiday is Asian Lunar New Years, and it is celebrated in many nations around the world beyond just China. Most nations where Buddhism has had a significant impact as a religious and philosophical tradition celebrate the lunar New Year: Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, Singapore and among the celebrating populations of many other countries, Asia and beyond, including Malaysia, Cambodia, Bhutan, the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and many others. In China, it is known also as the Spring Festival, for it heralds preparations for the Spring planting, harkening back to its agricultural roots.
  2. This year, the first day of the lunar new year (most celebrating Asian countries follow the lunar calendar) holiday is 5 February, and every new year is named according to its place in the 12-cycle zodiac, the name being represented by an animal. This 2019 is the Year of the Earth Pig, and pigs, being the symbol for wealth in the Chinese zodiac, are therefore, very, very lucky!
  3. One of the world’s largest migrations occurs during the run-up to the Spring Festival in China, as millions of urban workers leave their city apartments to return to the small towns and villages where they were born to spend Spring Festival with their parents, families and local town friends. In China, most people traditionally took an entire week off from work to celebrate the holiday with family, although this is changing, and most young workers today only take a few days off…and then it’s back to their job. Nevertheless, there is great pressure to be with family and friends, and to celebrate this time together.
  4. It is tradition to clean the house prior to the first day of Spring Festival, but for the celebration period that follows (this year, from 5 February through to the Lantern Festival, at the full moon, approximately 15 days), there should be no trash being thrown out, as that indicates disrespect to the unique nature of the holiday. The Lantern festival marks the official end of the Spring festival, and is celebrated with…what else?…more feasting and partying! Other traditions common at Spring Festival include eating a dish of dumplings as at least one meal per day (especially important in the north of China), and not showering on the actual first day of the holiday (this year, 5 February).
  5. Fireworks, always fun and celebratory, actual have a very practical function: while illegal in some locations (due to the danger they present), they are ubiquitous nevertheless just about everywhere the holiday is celebrated, and it is believed that they ward off bad and evil spirits for the coming new year. Hence, the more noise, the better!
  6. The color RED is used everywhere, as red is symbolic for health and the wish for the new year to be a healthy one: it is tradition to drape your home with red banners, lanterns, drapes, and some people even dress in red clothing (including red underwear!).
  7. It has become the custom for managers to provide the annual paid bonus at the beginning of Spring Festival. Workers typically receive a month’s pay in crisp, fresh bills (used bills are unlucky!) tucked into a red envelope prior to going on their Spring Festival holiday.
  8. While we should always have a dish of dumplings each day, we should also always end the main meal with a dessert of rice cakes. These can often be colored and flavored, and come in all shapes and sizes, but no matter how they taste or look, they symbolize the wish for plenty in the new year.
  9. If you are giving gifts (which is very common) at Spring Festival to family and friends (children especially typically get lots of gifts for the lunar new year), you should avoid scissors and any sharp objects (very bad luck, symbolizing the cutting of relationships), any items in fours (4 is a very unlucky number, as the word for four in Mandarin sounds similar to the word for “death”), and please, no clocks (the word for clock also sounds similar to the word for death). All gifts should be wrapped in bright red wrapping paper, and should be presented (and accepted) with TWO hands (to show respect and sincerity).
  10. And remember…in China, there are many different spoken languages, so while the “official” language is Mandarin, Cantonese is spoken in the south as the second most-spoken dialect in China, and the New Years greeting in Hong Kong is: Gong Hei Fat Choy! (a bit different from the Mandarin greeting in Beijing!). Going further afield, the greeting in Korean is “Eumlyeog Insamal!”; in Vietnamese: “Hanh phuc nam moi am lich!”; in Laotian: “Souk san van pee mai!”, and in Thai: “Chuc mung nam moi!”