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Chinese New Year: traditions and customs

This holiday allows the Chinese to take stock of the past year and start the new one with a clean slate

Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is one of the most important events in Chinese culture. It is permeated with national traditions and customs. Let's take a look at the main ones.

The significance of the red colour

Chinese New Year, or Chunjie, is imbued with the colour red. Many Chinese meet the New Year in red clothes, set the table with red tablecloths, give each other red envelopes hongbao with money.


In addition, traditionally on New Year's Day, the Chinese decorate their homes with paired inscriptions on red paper, which are called chunlian. The abundance of red colour during the New Year period in China is connected with the legend of the Nianshou monster. Every first day of the New Year it attacked villagers and their children, ate all the available provisions, damaged property. This continued until one day the deity in the form of a beggarly old man relieved people from Nyanshou's attacks with the help of red-coloured paraphernalia consisting of paired inscriptions, candles, a dressing gown, and numerous fireworks. Modern Chinese people believe that the colour red will bring them good luck and wealth in the new year.


What is the traditional family celebration of Chinese New Year?

A traditional family celebration of the Chinese New Year begins with preparation. A week before the main celebration, the Small New Year Xiaonian is celebrated. On this day it is customary to pay tribute to Zao Wang, the god of the kitchen and home. Pictures of this deity are hung in the kitchen and fireworks are set off in the street. It is believed that in the Chinese New Year, Zao Wang goes to heaven to the Jade Emperor with a report on how the family has performed in the past year. Depending on the contents of Zao Wang's report, the Jade Emperor decides on rewards or punishments for the family.

A few days before Chunjie, the Chinese do a general cleaning of the house and get rid of things that have not been used during the past year. The Chinese believe that in this way all stale energy will leave the house and make room for new life force, which will bring health, joy and wealth.

In preparation for Chunjie, the Chinese rush to update their wardrobe. They believe that old clothes are imbued with negative energy, and buying new ones symbolises the beginning of something new.

On the eve of Chunjie, many Chinese prefer to adjust their haircuts. This is also a symbol of renewal and new positive energies. However, it is not recommended to cut hair during the New Year holidays so as not to inadvertently cut off good luck in the new year.

Some Chinese families, especially the older generation, light incense on New Year's Eve. In this way they express their gratitude to their ancestors for the past year and ask for blessings in the coming year.


The most important component of the Chinese New Year is a festive family dinner. The New Year's table of a Chinese family necessarily includes such dishes as: jiaozi dumplings, pork in sweet and sour sauce (red colour again), rice noodles with shrimps, fried chicken, marbled eggs, glutinous rice biscuits niangao (such biscuits can be a small New Year's gift for colleagues or acquaintances) and, of course, fried fish, which must be cooked whole. Otherwise, according to the belief, the family ties of the family will be broken. 


The New Year's table should also include moon gingerbread yuebin and tangerines, as the phonetics of the word "tangerine" in Chinese is consonant with the phonetics of the word "gold". And in appearance tangerines remind the Chinese of small gold bars and coins.

While at the festive table, Chinese people traditionally watch a colourful gala concert dedicated to the Chunjie New Year.

What traditions and customs are associated with Chinese New Year?

The main tradition associated with the Chinese New Year can be considered the mass return of Chinese people to their hometowns and villages from large metropolises where they are on the job. This phenomenon is considered to be the largest migration movement in the modern world.

During the festive season, red paper cutouts can be found everywhere. Usually the theme of the clippings is related to the hieroglyph for "happiness", which is later hung on the front door with the outside upside down so that happiness does not escape. New Year's Eve cutouts can also feature paired fish. Fish are believed to attract wealth and prosperity into the home. This is due to the similar phonetics of the Chinese words for "fish" and "prosperity". Both characters when transliterated using the Russian-language Palladium table will be read as "yui", but have different Chinese tones (second and fourth tones respectively).

Important attributes of Chunjie are 15-day mass festivities and the indispensable lion and dragon dances, a large number of clappers and fireworks everywhere. During this time the Chinese have time to visit all relatives and friends, exchange gifts.


The New Year period in China is rounded off with the Yuanxiaojie Lantern Festival. On this day, numerous lanterns are lit in the streets and houses, and rice balls with sweet yuanxiao stuffing appear on the table in every family.

The article was provided by Anastasia Simonova, specialist of the Expert Council on Culture of the Youth Parliament Expert Council under the State Duma of the Russian Federation.

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