culture

A Beginner's Guide to Chinese New Year

TandemJanuary 31, 20195-min read

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New Year’s Day passed for many on January 1st with much celebration across the world. The first day of the year is an important moment in many cultures, representing a fresh start for all of us and a time to look forward to exciting things to come. But what about parts of the world that don’t celebrate New Year on the 1st January? For many people in Eastern Asia, along with the Asian diaspora around the world, New Year celebrations usually happen sometime in late January until mid-February. Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, is the most important event in the Chinese calendar. To celebrate, we’ve added some special Chinese New Year cards to the app for you to share with your Tandem partner. You can send a Chinese New Year card by tapping the holiday icon when you are messaging your partner.

Looking for a way to boost your language skills quickly and effectively? Our Tandem app helps you find a conversation exchange partner to chat with! Whether you want to learn the latest slang phrases, need clarification for a tricky grammar rule or just want to talk to a like-minded language learner, Tandem is the app for you!

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When is Chinese New Year?

While 1st January is an easy date to remember, the date of Chinese New Year is a little trickier to predict! The date is based on the Lunar Calendar, an Ancient Chinese invention which is based upon - you guessed it - cycles of the moon’s phases. Though many people in China today use the Gregorian calendar (much like the rest of the world), this more traditional Lunar calendar is still used for important festivals like Chinese New Year. As it is linked to the moon, the festival is celebrated on a different day every year, though it is usually late January until mid or late February. This year, it’s celebrated on 5th February. Don’t forget to send good wishes to your friends on that day and the night before (New Year’s Eve)!

Which zodiac animal is 2019 connected with?

Chinese culture has long had the tradition of naming the year with one of twelve zodiac animals. This means you can easily check your animal sign by finding out which animal your birth year represents! Anyone born in 2019 will be connected to the year of the pig. Many Chinese people have the belief that if the coming year is the year of your animal sign, you tend to have bad luck in that year. Don’t worry though - there is also a simple way to avoid the bad luck your animal sign year brings. Red is such a lucky color that it is said to cancel out any bad luck from your animal sign year, so if you just wear red clothes every day in 2019, you should be fine!

What is a red envelope?

Speaking of the color red, receiving a red envelope is probably the most exciting thing about Chinese New Year for kids! Red envelopes usually contain money and are given by elders to children. They traditionally represent love and blessing, but importantly (for the kids at least) they also usually contain a small amount of money as a gift. In some places, this tradition has moved from physical to virtual envelopes. With the help of mobile devices and payment apps, such as WeChat Pay, people can easily send each other electronic red envelopes together with their good wishes.

What do people eat at Chinese New Year?

Unsurprisingly, many Chinese people eat dumplings on New Year’s Day; dumplings being one of China’s most common traditional foods. China is a big and diverse country, however, so you’ll find that people in different regions eat differently and have their own variations on New Year’s cuisine. Instead, they might have Niangao (年糕), which is a special kind of New Year rice cake, or spring rolls, along with specially-cooked poultry (especially chicken) and fish. All of those foods are associated with positive vibes, and are seen as helping to ensure good fortune for the year ahead.

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What is "Chun Wan"?

Watching “Chun Wan” perhaps isn’t the most traditional part of Chinese New Year, but over the years it has become a common New Year’s activity. “Chun Wan”, or the “Spring Festival Gala” is an annual variety show produced by China Central Television (CCTV) featuring musical, dance, comedy, and drama performances. Widely regarded as the most-watched annual TV programme in the whole world, the first Chun Wan first took place in 1983. Over the years, it has become a New Year institution, with many Chinese people staying at home with their family on New Year’s Eve to watch this show. However, the younger generation are generally less interested in this show, in comparison with their parents, and many prefer to give it a miss! If you are interested in finding out more about the world’s most watched entertainment show, you can always ask your Chinese friends what they think of it. Some love it; others hate it. But there's always guaranteed to be some strong opinions to discuss! 😄

Where is Chinese New Year celebrated?

You might think from its name that Chinese New Year is 100% a Chinese festival. But the traditions and practices of the festival have spread around the world, because there are many ethnic Chinese people living outside China. There are many Chinese markets and China towns in Western countries, and each will have a special celebration for Chinese New Year. You can see lanterns, lion dances, and firecrackers everywhere just like the ones in China when Chinese New Year approaches. Secondly, there are many other Asian countries that also use the Lunar calendar for their New Year celebrations. Vietnam, for example, celebrates a similar festival at the same time called “Tet” which has its own special traditions.

What do you say at Chinese New Year?

We’ve prepared some special phrases for you in Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese Chinese to share with your Tandem partner this year.

Mandarin:

  • 新年快乐 (xīn nián kuài lè) means “Happy New Year” in Mandarin, and you can add “万事如意” if you want to make it sound a bit more exciting!
  • 万事如意 (wàn shì rú yì) can be translated into “may everything that you wish come true”, a phrase which is commonly used by Chinese speakers during Chinese New Year.
  • 恭喜发财,红包拿来 (gōng xǐ fā cái, hóng bāo ná lái) is more of a joke blessing. The meaning of it is: “May prosperity be with you - now give me a red envelope!” The last four words didn’t exist at the very beginning when this line was invented, but were added as a tongue-in-cheek rhyme that emphasises the monetary benefits of the holiday.

Cantonese:

  • 新 年 快 樂 (sun leen fai lok) - “Happy New Year”. It is often paired with other new year phrases in one sentence, e.g: 新年快樂身體健康 - “Happy New Year and good health”
  • 新年快樂歲歲平安 - “Happy New Year and peace for the following years”
  • 歲歲平安 - (sui sui ping on) - “Hope you have peace for generations to come”
  • 快高長大 (fai goh jeung dai) - “Grow tall and be strong”, this one is generally used for children…
  • 學業進步 (hohk yihp jeun bouh) - This is a greeting reserved for students, wishing them progress in their studies. This is important for young students as well as more advanced students.
  • 恭喜發財 (gong hei fat choy) - when you want to wish prosperity in the new year.
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