Chinese New Year

I am sponsoring a diversity club here on campus. It’s a new club we’re starting up this semester. To kick it off, we did a presentation today about the Chinese New Year, since today is, in fact, Chinese New Year. It went really well! I wrote it and a student from Taiwan delivered the speech. I think most Americans know nothing about the holiday. Here is the presentation; I hope you learn a thing or two.

Today is Chinese New Year. You didn’t even realize today was a holiday, did you?

Over 1.4 BILLION people around the world celebrate it. It is called Chinese New Year because one of the main places it’s celebrated is in China, but it’s also celebrated in Australia, the U.S, Taiwan, Korea, Canada, Malaysia, and anywhere else that has a large Chinese population.

Have you heard of the Chinese Zodiac? Perhaps you’ve been in a Chinese restaurant and seen a placemat that lists years and animals. This is similar to Western astrology, like being a Gemini or Virgo. There is also a Zodiac sign given to each year. This new year is the year of the horse, or,ma, in Chinese.

Here’s a short video about the legend of the animals in the zodiac.

There are many traditions that people keep as they celebrate the Chinese New Year, which is also called Spring Festival or the Lunar New Year. The Festival lasts 15 days. Most people have about 1 full week off work and 1 full month off school. How nice!

During this time, everyone travels home to be with their families, just like at Christmas in the US. In mainland China, the population is over 1 billion people, so the trains and buses are so crowded!

Red is the lucky color of the New Year and everything is decorated with red and gold. We decorate with paper lanterns. In fact, the last day of the New Year celebration ends with something called the Lantern Festival. On the 15th day of the lunar calendar, you can go around town and see huge lanterns or light displays. These huge light displays can also be found at temples.

Fireworks are a huge part of the celebration. Did you know that fireworks were invented in China and have been around for over 1,000 years? It is said that we began using them to drive away evil spirits from our New Year. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, you will see and hear so many fireworks.

Hong bao, or red envelope, is used to give gifts of money. This is always done for Chinese New Year. Again, the color red is lucky and also wards off evil spirits. Mostly the hong bao are given to children. This is probably pretty similar to giving Christmas gifts.

 Of course a huge part of any holiday is the food. There are many traditional foods that we eat for Chinese New Year. One of the main ones is fish. The Chinese word for fish is yu. It sounds similar to the word for riches. So, on New Years we eat fish so that our wishes will come true in the year to come. Many sweets are also eaten because they symbolize a sweet and rich life. Can you see that the Chinese really love symbolism? The luck might come from the name, as I already stated or it might even be considered lucky based on what the food looks like.

I hope you enjoyed learning about Chinese New Year.


Photo I took in Xi'an, China for New Year 2011

Photo I took in Xi’an, China for New Year 2011

Xin Nian Kuai Le!

Happy Chinese New Year! 新年快乐! The date for Chinese New Year changes every year, because it’s based on the lunar calendar. This year it’s on January 23rd. It’s kinda ridiculous that I don’t think I had ever even heard of the lunar new year until I moved to China! I got to celebrate the lunar new year once in China and once in Vietnam. I was surprised to find out how many countries and peoples celebrate this holiday. People of Chinese ethnicity all over the world and mostly Asians celebrate this- especially places such as Vietnam, the Philippines, Singapore, Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand, and so many more. Also, China Towns outside of Asia have huge celebrations, with the largest one being in Sydney, Australia at around 600,000 people. So, if we think about China having 1.3 billion people, plus an additional couple of million, it’s estimated that about 1.4 billion people around the world celebrate this holiday. So, I think we all need to know at least a little bit about it!

This holiday is like our Christmas, a time to get together with family, eat traditional foods, and give gifts, usually of money in red envelopes called hong bao. Fireworks are a big part of this holiday, and on New Year’s Eve it sounds like a battlefield there are so many being set off. This supposedly goes back to an ancient tradition of filling bamboo with gun powder to create explosions which would scare away evil spirits. Red is the favorite color to decorate with and wear at this special time of the year. The Chinese word for red, hong, also means prosperous, which gives the color red its auspiciousness. Red paper lanterns are especially popular.

Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival, (it’s almost spring, right? hehe) is the busiest travel time of the whole year. There is a 40 day time period in which people are travelling to see their families. It is said that this is the world’s largest annual migration! Some people, especially migrant workers, might stand in line for up to a week trying to secure a train ticket! I remember some of my students telling me that the only train tickets they could get were standing tickets, so they stood for the 30 hour trip home! (Flying is still an expensive way to travel for most Chinese.) Can you imagine?! It’s estimated that about 3.2 BILLION trips are made! Nowhere in the world do so many people travel at one time. And believe me, from personal experience, it is crowded in every plane, train, and bus! Read this NPR article if you want to know more about the travel situation:

Well, I for one am sad not to be somewhere in Asia celebrating this wonderful holiday. I wish I could be sitting at the dinner table with some Chinese friends eating traditional food and hearing the distant pops of firecrackers. Oh well….maybe next year! Xin Nian Kuai Le! Happy year of the dragon!