Why I stopped calling “Chinese New Year” Chinese New Year

Notes of Jo
Jan 28, 2017 · 6 min read

You may know that in China, Chinese New Year is a much more important holiday than Christmas or New Year’s Eve. (Christmas is usually very commercialised here.) You may know that even though the entire world welcomes January 1st as the new year, it just isn’t a part of the culture in some Asian countries. In China, people celebrate New Year following the lunar calendar. So, unlike Western nations, the winter break in China usually doesn’t happen until between late January and early February. For 2017, the first day of the lunar calendar new year lays on the 28th of January. We also use the 12 animal zodiacs to calculate the years. This year is the year of the golden rooster!


Did you know that China is not the only country that celebrates THIS new year in their culture?

Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and many others also celebrate this holiday following the lunar calendar.

Of course, the countries surrounding China share history and culture heritage with it. Most Asian countries adopted the tradition because of the large Chinese immigrant population. They may share some similarities with China’s custom. Yet, these countries have established their unique ways to rejoice the festivity. The lunar new year is not only for Chinese. Each country has also developed their styles base in the regions.

So, to be politically correct, it’s only fair to refer this festival as the lunar new year instead of Chinese new year.

In fact, in Taiwan, we’ve never called it as the Chinese New Year. It has always been the lunar new year (nóng-lì xin-nián.) Also, like many western countries celebrate Christmas in their individual ways, it’s the same with the lunar new year. As you know, I am from Taiwan, so here I am introducing you the lunar new year I know since growing up!

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First of all,

the lunar new year begins the night before the first day of the calendar. People are on holidays for about four days and start working on the fifth or the sixth day. Also, before the lunar new year’s eve, people would do a very thorough cleaning of the entire home. It symbolises getting rid of the old and welcoming the new.

#1. The Lunar New Year’s Eve Reunion Dinner

Usually, all family members would gather at the household of the most elderly person’s to enjoy a feast together. If you are a female who is married, you will have this meal with your in-laws. A typical must-have dish is a fish since the Mandarin word for fish (yú) has the same pronunciation as the word for “abundance.” The other dish that would appear on the dinner table or as a snack is the new year rice cake (nián gāo.) Eating this rice cake symbolises raising yourself higher and taller in the coming year. Why? Because the word “nián” means “year,” and the word “gāo” (in this case means “cake”) has the same pronunciation as “tall/high.”

chinese new year
chinese new year

#2. New Year’s Day (The First Day)

In my family, one of the traditions (which I dislike) is going to the church for new year sermon. But obviously, that’s not what the rest of the population in Taiwan does. After the church, we would go back to my grandma’s house to eat the leftovers from last night. By doing so means we have more than enough to eat that’s leftover from the last year, hence having a new year filled with abundance.

Young children would go out to relatives’ households and say lucky words to get the red envelopes from the elders.

#3. The Red Envelope

My favourite tradition of the lunar new year! If you are not married, you get red envelopes that have $$$$$ money $$$$$ inside from your parents, your grandparents and other relatives. Again, each family has different qualifications when it comes to the legitimacy of receiving red envelopes. I know some of my friends are “disqualified” as soon as they are no longer students. You also start giving out the red envelopes to your parents and grandparents once you got a job. Prepare to dish out a lot of money if you happen to have many siblings that have children.

Before the lunar new year, people go to the banks to get brand new bills to put inside of the red envelopes. The reason behind it is unknown. Perhaps it symbolises as a new start. On a side note, the red envelopes come in many different designs. It’s definitely an art!

Also, the money you put inside of the envelope must only include even numbers. But numbers including “4” and “8” need to be avoided because 4 sounds like “death”, and 8 sounds like “so long.” (In China, 8 is a good number because it also sounds like “getting rich”) Why only even numbers? Because it means that good things come in pairs.

#4. The Second Day

This is the day when all married women and her family return to their parents’ home for family gathering. It’s another day to enjoy loads of food prepared by the other side of the family.

Yes, more food!

#5. Firecrackers, Fireworks, and the Lion Dance.

When I was a child, setting out firecrackers is one of the most exciting things to do. The tradition of shooting firecrackers during the lunar new year came from a story about scaring away a monster that eats people. To be honest, I don’t know if kids nowadays do it anymore because everyone seems to be caught up on the screens. And for your information, fireworks and firecrackers are prohibited in Shanghai, so it’s awfully quiet here, too.

I’ve only seen the whole firecrackers and lion dance skit in the Chinatown of New York City. It was one of the best experiences. If you are not in an Asian country that celebrates the lunar new year but wants to get some authenticity out of this festival, go to a Chinatown!

For people travelling in China and Taiwan during the lunar new year: I am not sure about the other Asian countries, but as same as Christmas, the lunar new year is a national holiday. So, many stores and tourist attractions aren’t open during this time. But many restaurants are running and offer traditional new year dinner. If you are not from a culture that celebrates the lunar new year: Take the opportunity when you have the chance to spend a lunar new year with an Asian family! It’s an unforgettable experience!

p.s. You will also save your friend from answering questions such as “Where’s your boyfriend/girlfriend?” Why are you not married yet? You’re already 30!” “How much money do you make a year?” from their relatives just by being a foreigner, haha. But this is a whole ‘other topic! :-P.

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Originally published at Notes of Jo.

Notes of Jo

Written by

Piano teacher, coffee drinker, elephant lover, and foodie! Expat for life. #Travel one city at a time.