Celebrating on Chinese New Year's Day

Big family celebrating Chinese New Year.

Lane Oatey / Blue Jean Images / Getty Images

Chinese New Year is the most important and, at 15 days, the longest holiday in China. Chinese New Year begins on the first day of the lunar calendar, so it is also called Lunar New Year, and it is considered the beginning of spring, so it is also called the Spring Festival. After ringing in the New Year on New Year's Eve, revelers spend the first day of the Chinese New Year doing a variety of activities.

Chinese New Year Clothes

Every member of the family starts the New Year off right with new clothes. From head to toe, all clothes and accessories worn on New Year’s Day should be brand-new. Some families still wear traditional Chinese clothing like qipao, but many families now wear regular, Western-style clothing like dresses, skirts, pants, and shirts on Chinese New Year’s Day. Many opt to wear lucky red underwear.

Worship Ancestors

The first stop of the day is the temple to worship ancestors and welcome the New Year. Families bring offerings of food such as fruit, dates, and candied peanuts. They also burn sticks of incense and stacks of paper money.

Give Red Envelopes

Family and friends distribute 紅包, (hóngbāo, red envelopes) filled with money. Married couples give red envelopes to unmarried adults and kids. Children especially look forward to receiving red envelopes, which are given in lieu of gifts.

Play Mahjong

Mahjong (麻將, má jiàng) is a fast-paced, four-player game played throughout the year, but particularly during Chinese New Year.

Launch Fireworks

Starting at midnight New Year’s Eve and continuing throughout the day, fireworks of all shapes and sizes are lit and launched. The tradition began with the legend of Nian, a ferocious monster that was afraid of the colors red and loud noises. It is believed the noisy fireworks scared the monster. Now, it is believed that the more fireworks and noise there are, the more luck there will be in the New Year.

Avoid Taboos

There are many superstitions surrounding the Chinese New Year. The following activities avoided by most Chinese on Chinese New Year’s Day include:

  • Breaking dishes, which brings bad luck.
  • Getting rid of the trash, which is likened to sweeping away good fortune.
  • Scolding children is a sign of bad luck.
  • Crying is another sign of bad luck.
  • Saying inauspicious words, another sign of bad luck.
  • Washing hair is also said to bring bad luck on this day.