Discovering China- Chinese New Year Traditions and Customs

2018-01-30 04:33:52

Wearing red

Chinese New Year, also called Spring Festival, is the most auspicious event in the Chinese calendar, reflecting upon thousands of years of tradition and culture. The festivities during this time of year are vast and plentiful and the festival lasts for 15 days, culminating with the Lantern Festival. The lead up to Spring Festival is focused on many traditions, customs and activities and the enormous geographic, demographic and cultural diversity in China means Chinese New Year celebrations differ across the country. One particular widespread tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation is wearing red or brightly coloured clothes on New Year’s Day. Red is a particularly significant colour as it is believed to scare away bad spirits and misfortune. Due to this traditional belief, red is seen everywhere: from the red lanterns that decorate the outside streets to the beautiful red paper-cutting patterns that adorn the inside of family homes. The tradition of gifting red items during Chinese New Year is popular across the whole of China, with red outfits and accessories of all shapes and sizes decorating people’s wardrobes during this festive period.


In order to welcome Chinese New Year, streets and family homes are decorated with beautiful lanterns and paper-cutting patterns. Most decorations are red in colour, symbolising prosperity and good fortune. One of the most typical decorations adorned across China is an upside down ‘fu’ (福, fú). In Chinese the words for ‘upside down’ are (倒, dào) and ‘to arrive’ is (到, dào). Therefore by placing ‘fu’ upside down, you have a phrase which sounds similar to ‘good luck arriving’. Lin Feng Qin from Zhejiang province describes how she celebrates Chinese New Year by practising calligraphy- “I practise calligraphy and during Spring Festival, I take great joy in creating New Year couplets for family and friends. It’s a great way to give personalised gifts and people are really happy to see Chinese calligraphy being revitalised.’’

Lin Feng Qin


The Chinese New Year meal is the most auspicious dinner occasion of the entire year. Families and friends come together for a grand-scale reunion to celebrate with stunning delicacies and delights displayed proudly across dinner tables. Dumplings are a traditional dish eaten on Chinese New Year’s Eve, especially popular in Northern China. In Chinese, fish (鱼, yú) is homonymous to ‘surplus’ (余, yú) and is traditionally eaten during Chinese New Year’s Eve to symbolise continued surplus in the new year. In the north of China part of the fish is also left intentionally uneaten to symbolise continued surplus for the New Year. In other areas the head and tail of the fish are not eaten until the beginning of the New Year, symbolising continued surplus from the start to the end of the year. Huang Shaoyng from Beijing recalls making special dumplings with her family during New Year’s Eve. “We have a large family reunion during Chinese New Year and one of the highlights is spending time with each other to make dumplings. During this process, a lucky piece of candy is placed inside one of the dumplings and whoever randomly receives this is believed to possess good luck. Traditionally a real coin was placed inside dumplings but we replaced this with candy to stop any unfortunate situations!”

On December 30, 2017, Dong Zheng (left) was making dumplings with his aunt Dong Shuangzhi (zhong) and his mother Zheng Leidan (right), to prepare for the New Year. by Liguoqing

Red envelopes

It’s not Chinese New Year without the custodial giving and receiving of beautifully decorated red envelopes or ‘hongbao’ (红包, hóng bāo). The red envelopes are filled with money and are typically given to children and unmarried couples. The custom has been revolutionised by the spread of technology and people of all ages now send and receive hongbao via social media platforms. 14.2 billion virtual hongbao were exchanged during last New Year’s Eve on the ‘Wechat’ social media platform alone. Chi from Hubei describes how the etiquette of hongbao differs across provinces in China. “Receiving red envelopes is one of the most exciting things for children during the Chinese New Year. In Southern China, like in Guangdong province, red envelopes have become a formality and are given to children and unmarried people alike. In my hometown province of Hubei, they are still a big tradition and those given to elders and children often contain larger amounts of money.”



After 12 am on New Year’s Eve, a tremendous symphony of firecrackers can be heard thundering around the festive streets of China. It is a common custom to stay awake after midnight to set off firecrackers to celebrate the coming of the Chinese New Year. This country-wide custom was traditionally partaken in to scare away evil spirits at the stroke of the new year. Li Xiang from Xinjiang describes the joys of celebrating with her family. “When I was younger, we would particularly look forward to welcoming the new year with family, friends, and neighbours by enjoying the fireworks display outside. The children enjoy the joyous scenes and the adults take this opportunity to discuss their plans for the upcoming year. In the morning of the first day of the new year (大年初一, dà nián chū yī) parents wake up and set off firecrackers, which symbolises the family household has awoken for the new year.”

Li Xiang

Fun activities

Chinese New Year is ultimately a time for reconciliation and celebration. Momo from Chongqing recalls his recent memories of the first day of Chinese New Year. “A new tradition in my family involves spending the first day of the new year hiking together. During hiking, we look for interesting items to bring back to our family home. In this case, bigger items symbolise the arrival of wealth and good fortune in the new year. On one particular occasion, my uncle came across a small tree slightly uprooted from the ground. He decided to bring the whole tree back, which couldn’t even fit in the back of the car! My uncle triumphantly drove back home with the car boot half open and half of a tree sticking out and then proceeded to display the tree on the balcony, much to the amusement and disarray of the rest of my family!”

New clothes

It is a custom to buy new clothes to welcome the Chinese New Year. On December 28, 2017, Zheng Yuanrun and his mother were shopping for New Year's clothes in a shopping mall in Hangzhou. "The most exciting thing for me at the beginning of the New Year is to buy new clothes and buy a train ticket to get home for the Spring Festival. When I was younger I asked for a new dress every year, and my mother would try her best and buy it for me as a New Year gift"

On December 28, 2017, Zheng Yuanrun and his mother are shopping for New Year's clothes in shopping mall in Hangzhou. by Liguoqing


Gifts for Spring Festival are chosen with great care and attention, often symbolising good fortune and prosperity in the coming year. On January 7, 2018, Li Xiuran, who works in Daoxiangcun, a provisions shop where you can buy traditional Beijing food explained his feelings on the festivities. “I have to work during the Spring Festival since we will be very busy during those days. My daughter is a university student in Beijing and we always see each other several times a month, when I return home after work and see my family, every day is a festival for me.”

On January 7, 2018, Li Xiuran, who works in the Daoxiangcun, a provisions shop where you can buy traditional Beijing food,was introducing the newly launched New Year's gift. by Liguoqing

Families reunited

Owing to the large geographic variation in China, family members are often located in provinces separated by great distances. Spring festival is an opportunity for Chinese families to re-unite and celebrate the festivities together. Huang Hongping from Jiangxi Province (left) and her niece Chen Qian (right) are busy with their seasoning business in a market in Beijing. "My husband, my niece and I have operated our business in Beijing for many years. We worked hard for a whole year, I want to go back home to be with my three children. Every year we buy a selection of special local products unique to Beijing, our children love these gifts."

On January 7, 2018, Huang Hongping from Jiangxi Province (left) and her niece Chen Qian (right)are running their own business in a market of Beijing. By Liguoqing


At the time of Spring Festival, every family will get together to thoroughly clean their home and buy new household items. The 24th day in the twelfth month of the lunar year is a day to clean the house and sweep away dust. Chinese people have had the custom of sweeping away dust during the new year since the time of emperors Yao and Shun. According to the Chinese language, "old" is homophonic with the word ‘dust’, so this practice during Spring Festival equates to ‘erasing oldness and sweeping away any bad luck’. On January 8, 2018, Yang Yuyan from Wenzhou was cleaning her house and proudly displaying New Year's paintings.

On January 8, 2018,Wenzhou woman Yang Yuyan was cleaning the dust and pasting the New Year's paintings to welcome the New Year. By Liguoqing



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