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Top 10 Must Do's On Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is next Monday. Earlier this week I shared some fun No-Nos on Chinese New Year.

But come on! The real fun is not “what you can’t do” but what you get to do! Here’s what our friends in China, and throughout most of East Asia, will be up to during the Chinese New Year.


See the folks – New Year's Eve in China is usually celebrated with a large family dinner. This dinner is called the Reunion Feast and is considered the most important meal of the year. In most Chinese families it is a multi-generational gathering with young and old lending a hand in the preparations.




See red. Lots of red! - Red is considered an auspicious color in Chinese culture. On New Year's Eve families often decorate their homes with red lanterns and banners. Public buildings and banks will also be decorated with “couplets,” banners depicting images of prosperity. Since this is the Year of the Monkey, look out for lots of red monkey dolls and paintings!




Get down with the lion dance – Most Chinese temples will hold a fair featuring lots of tasty Chinese street food, celebrations like the Emperor’s Wedding and the Lion Dance. A team of dancers in an elaborate lion outfit dance for the crowd. It’s a kid favorite. How the lions will get along with the monkeys this years remain to be seen!




Dig out your red long-johns – Red is believed to ward off bad luck. In China (or your local Chinatown if you are lucky enough to have one) even supermarkets will have a big selection of bright red underwear on sale. If you happen to be born in the Year of the Monkey then sexy red undies is a must New Year’s Day.




Say your prayers – It is believed that the God’s are all out greeting each other on New Year’s Day and in a good mood. Prayers and offerings at the Chinese temple on New Years Day are believed to have a much better chance of being answered.




Text ‘til your fingers cramp – This is a new tradition of course. But Chinese cellular carriers report that text volume on New Years Day is about 10X normal levels. It makes sense. You’ve traveled home to see your family but it would be rude not to send greetings to friends and coworkers. Walking down the street on New Years Day is an exercise in patience because about half the people you see are walking and texting.



Bite into something fishy - In my previous post we talked about Chinese superstitions based on word play. In Chinese the word for “fish” sounds similar to the Chinese word for “surplus.” So eating fish on New Years Day is thought to guarantee a year-long surplus of good things.




Little red envelopes – As we do at Christmas in the USA, Chinese exchange gifts at New Years. But, shopping is a bit easier because the default gift for children and seniors is a little bright red envelope filled with cash. It is a point of pride for young people that once they start their first paying job they can pass out red envelopes to the “kids” in the family and to their parents as a sign of their new bread earner status.

(Want to be the cool kid in China? Download one of the very popular “Red Envelope” apps for your cell phone and fire away to children and seniors on your list without ever leaving the comfort of your home.)



Break your medicine jar – Want to stay healthy all year long? Break your medicine jar on new Years Day. It’s believed to bring a year of freedom from medications. I’m not quite sure how that works with child-proof bottles but I’m happy now to have an excuse for some payback.





Start the year with a bang – Traditionally Chinese families ring in the New Year by firing off firecrackers when the clock strikes midnight. There is even a bit of competition to be the first family on the block to sound off. By convention you should fire off one small string of firecrackers followed by three large firecrackers (the louder the better). This symbolizes saying goodbye to the previous year and welcoming in the new one.

(Unfortunately, fireworks are now banned in large cities in China so you will only experience this eardrum-bursting tradition in smaller towns and villages.)

Chinese New Year falls on a work day in the USA this year. But consider calling in sick and heading down to Chinatown to join in the fun. You won't regret it!

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