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How Chinese People Celebrate Chinese New Year


Spring Festival, Lunar New Year, Chinese New Year, 过年 (guò nián)  – whatever you prefer to call China's biggest holiday – is fast approaching.

Unless you live near a Chinatown or in an area with a large Chinese population, chances are the day will pass without the fanfare that's happening on the other side of the Pacific.

The first time my husband was able to visit the United States was right before the Spring Festival and I found myself missing the craziness of the Spring Festival. 

It was incredibly strange to have the days go by without the sounds and smells of firecrackers going off all night long, or to spend days preparing for the holiday by stocking up on food for at least a week.

Equally strange was not have to get crisp 100 yuan notes to fill the 红包 (hóng bāo)  and watching the antics of comedian 赵本山 (zhào běn shān)  - Zhao Benshan on the annual CCTV Chinese New Year gala.

Instead, we celebrated by making dumplings and watching old comedy sketches, or 相声 (xiàng shēng)  on YouTube.

If you're not going to be in China to welcome the Year of the Sheep, here are some traditions that you can participate in no matter where you're located.  

Traditions do vary from region to region in China and from family to family, but these are some of the most widely practiced.

1. Create and hang homemade 对联 (duì lián)

Red paper, black paint, a paint brush and a saying is all you'll need to add near-instant festivity and good fortune to your home in the coming year.

对联 (duì lián)  are a type of poetry couplets in which the two lines are antithetical yet contain complementary words that will bring good fortune to the home and its residents.  

Use your best calligraphy skills to write out the three lines and tape them around your door frame.

You can find dozens of ready-to-write sayings on this website; choose one specifically crafted for the Year of the sheep or use the search function to find another couplet that you like.

An interesting superstition I learned last year after my husband's grandma passed away just days before the holiday, is that you can't hang new 对联 (duì lián) for three years following the death of a loved one.

As you'd expect, this varies in practice and in some places families use another color of paper for their 对联 (duì lián) for the three years.

2. Make homemade dumplings

A common tradition in Nothern China is to involve the whole family in the dumpling, or 饺子 (jiǎo zi) , making process.

From grandpa mixing up the dough to an uncle rolling it out the wrappers as kids fill them and grandma stands watch as they boil on the stove.

Some families even put a freshly-washed coin inside a dumpling. The person who gets that dumpling will have good fortune all year long.

[TIP]: To really treat yourself to a traditional Chinese New Year meal, check out this post with 5 Essential Chinese New Year Dishes

3. Go shopping for new clothes and accessories

Your Christmas gift cards will come in handy as you treat yourself, and your loved ones, to new clothes to wear as you usher in the new year.

If this is your 本命年 (běn mìng nián) , the year of your birth zodiac sign, then it's tradition to wear at least one red item every day for the whole year to negate the bad luck brought about by the year.

[TIP]:  Learn more about 本命年 (běn mìng nián) with our Chinese New Year Google Hangout here!

Belts, socks, underwear and long underwear are the most common ways that Chinese people work red into their wardrobe on a daily basis, but red outerwear such as sweaters, scarves and dresses are acceptable.

4. Clean the house from top to bottom

Depending on your personality, this might not rate too high on the fun-factor scale, but in China it's essential to start the new year with a clean house to symbolize a fresh new start.

Sweep away all the dust and bad memories and open the door to a year of endless possibilities. I always enjoy the days spent relaxing in our clean house.

[TIP]: Want to learn more about Chinese New Year?  Check out our post "Chinese New Year is Nuts" for a closer look at this epic holiday!

Share your stories about celebrating (or experiencing) Chinese New Year in the comments below!