A Guide to Lunar New Year

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Lunar New Year, or Chinese New Year, is my favourite annual holiday. As I don’t celebrate Christmas with my family, Chinese New Year is our fortuitous equivalent: we eat (and often over-eat) home-cooked food, exchange red envelopes of lucky money in lieu of physical gifts, and hang up red decorations around the house. Above all, it is a chance for the entire extended family to reunite and share happiness together.  This year will be my first spending Chinese New Year away from my family, so I would like to share this occasion with as many people as possible.

This year will be my first spending Chinese New Year away from my family

In the Gregorian calendar, there is no set date for Chinese New Year, because the date follows the lunar calendar. Chinese New Year begins on the first day of the lunar calendar, January 1 and ends on January 15. Each Chinese New Year also heralds the new zodiac: the twelve Chinese zodiac signs originated with the story that twelve animals entered a race, and the outcome of the race determined the order of the zodiacs. Last year, in 2018, it was the year of the dog. In 2019, the year of the pig, the first day of Chinese New Year is February 5th, and Chinese New Year’s Eve is on January 4th. Most people, including my family, celebrate ‘New Year’s Eve’ on the lunar calendar by holding a reunion dinner, after which the family stays up late and waits for the beginning of the New Year. The reunion dinner is usually the highlight of the holiday – many people in Northern China celebrate by eating savoury dumplings shaped like gold ingots for good luck. My extended family and I make and eat tangyuan (汤圆), which are sweet glutinous rice dumplings cooked in soup and filled with black sesame or peanut. Other traditional foods include 年糕 (sweet or savoury rice cake) and mandarins, which are in season this time of year.

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a time of happiness, good food, and positivity to be spent with your loved ones

On the first day of the new year, my family and I all exchange red packets: usually, married couples give out red packets, and before they are given we say traditional Chinese New Year’s greetings. There are many to choose from, but they are positive wishes, such as ‘Hope your business prospers’, ‘Hope your studies go well’, or my least favourite ‘Hope you grow taller’ (which has yet to happen). One of the most common traditions is wearing new clothes before Chinese New Year, especially clothes in red, which is a particularly auspicious colour. This tradition came about because of the myth of Nian (same as the Chinese word for year), a monster who terrorised villages but was mortally afraid of the colour red and of firecrackers, so wearing red and setting off firecrackers warded off the bad luck. Colours to avoid during Chinese New Year are white and black as they are associated with death. It’s also a tradition to avoid sweeping the floor or cutting your hair during the first few days of the Chinese new year, as doing so will sweep away the fortunes you have amassed.

Chinese New Year is a time of happiness, good food, and positivity to be spent with your loved ones! Though there are many traditions, each family has opportunities to create their own, and so do you. If you are interested in learning more about the festival, please visit this website https://chinesenewyear.net/or get in touch.

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