Celebrating Chinese New Year’s Eve

Chinese family New Year reunion dinner
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Chinese New Year is the most important and, at 15 days, the longest holiday in China, which kicks off the two-week long festivities. 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 Spring Festival. The holiday is filled with many activities with revelers staying up as long as possible to usher in the New Year.

Worshipping Ancestors

Beginning in the afternoon, ancestors are worshiped and given offerings for blessings and protection over the past year. Offerings include fruit, dried fruit, and candied peanuts. At the temple, families will burn sticks of incense and stacks of paper money.

Eating a Big Family Meal

One of the highlights of Chinese New Year is the food. On Chinese New Year’s Day, a huge feast is served. Since Chinese New Year is a national holiday in China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, nearly everyone returns home for Chinese New Year. For some families, it is the only time each year that the entire family will be together. In some cases, not all family members can return so a place setting is set in their honor.

Each item eaten has a special symbolism. The Chinese New Year’s feast includes:

  • = wealth because shaped like ancient silver and gold ingots. 
  • Fish = surplus because 鱼 (, fish) sounds like 餘 (, surplus). Leaving a little extra fish on the plate is customary as it symbolizes there will be enough for the family in the coming year. The family is careful not to break the bones of the fish as this could bring bad luck.
  • Hard liquor = longevity because 酒 (jiǔ, alcohol) sounds like 久 (jiǔ, longevity).

Wrap Dumplings and Watch the New Year’s Eve Countdown on TV

In mainland China, nearly all families sit around the dinner table and wrap dumplings while watching the CCTV New Year’s Gala (春节联欢晚会), a New Year’s Eve countdown variety show on CCTV.

From the oldest to the youngest family member, each person participates.

Dumplings with a variety of fillings, including meat, fish, and vegetables, are wrapped into the shape of ancient Chinese silver and gold ingots, which symbolize wealth. A gold coin is wrapped inside one dumpling. Similar to a Mardi Gras king cake in which a plastic baby is hidden in one slice, the person who gets the dumpling with the coin inside is said to have good luck for the coming year. The dumplings are traditionally eaten at midnight and throughout the two-week holiday.

Play Mahjong

Mahjong (麻將, má jiàng) is a fast-paced, four-player game played throughout the year but particularly during Chinese New Year. Learn all about how to play mahjong.

Launch Fireworks

Fireworks of all shapes and sizes are launched at midnight and throughout New Year’s Day. Firecrackers with red paper are the most popular. The fireworks tradition began with the legend of Nian, a ferocious monster that was afraid of the color red and loud noises. It is believed the noisy fireworks scared the monster. Now, it is believed the more fireworks and noise there are, the more luck there will be in the New Year.

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Mack, Lauren. "Celebrating Chinese New Year’s Eve." ThoughtCo, Dec. 27, 2017, thoughtco.com/chinese-new-years-eve-687471. Mack, Lauren. (2017, December 27). Celebrating Chinese New Year’s Eve. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/chinese-new-years-eve-687471 Mack, Lauren. "Celebrating Chinese New Year’s Eve." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/chinese-new-years-eve-687471 (accessed April 24, 2018).