Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year or the Spring Festival, is an annual celebration at the beginning of the new year using the traditional lunisolar calendar. Each lunar new year celebrates one of the twelve Chinese zodiac animals, this year’s being celebrated on Friday, February 12th, ushering in the year of the Ox.
And of course, with the Spring Festival celebration, comes many traditions, ranging from clothing, to taboos, to stories and myths passed around, and finally (everyone’s favorite), gifts!
Traditional clothing worn to celebrate this day (celebrations can last for weeks, but are typically combined into one day for the public) are always newly bought or made. This is because Chinese New Year is celebrated for the passing of an old year into a new one, and is typically represented by bringing in new spirits, becoming fresh, and throwing out the old.
The most popular clothing for women is typically a Qipao, which is a traditional Chinese dress, usually in bright colors and with embroidered flowers, dragons, or other pictures. Typically, it is red, as red symbolizes good luck, and black or white are shunned because it represents bad luck.
Most men wear a tang suit, which is a two piece traditional Chinese wear, also usually red. Usually it isn’t accompanied by any accessories, but women can choose to wear ornate hair wands, inlaid with gems and decorations.
Taboos on this day are pushed to the extreme, as the new year is always the most auspicious day, and no one wants to start it off on a bad foot.
They are quite simple, but can be easy to accidentally do. An example of this are negative words. Any negative words, such a “death, sick, pain, disease”, etc, are forbidden! This is because it may because you and your family bad luck, like jinxing yourself when you say “At least this didn’t happen.”
Do not break ceramics or glass either. This is said to break any connection to fame, prosperity, or fortune you may have, and so if someone drops a plate, it is almost immediately picked up, and the shards are wrapped in red silk, to be tossed into a river after the day has passed. This is said to bring back your connection.
Do not clean or sweep. Before the festival, there is always a day of cleaning, to sweep away the bad luck. But during the actual celebration, it is forbidden, as it may accidentally sweep away good luck. This also goes for showing or bathing, as it may wash away good luck.
Do not use any sharp objects, such as scissors for cutting hair. This is said to cut your stream of wealth and success, hence why most hair salons are closed during the holidays in China.
Do not take medicine (of course, take it if you’re chronically ill, immediate health always comes first.). However, small doses of medicine are said to lead to sickness the entire year. And finally, there are Chinese gift giving taboos. Giving clocks is a symbol of paying one’s last respects, or saying that you’re sad that they’re dead. This can lead to death in the recipient’s home. Splitting pears is a symbol of separation, and giving shoes represents leaving. Anything that is white is taboo, as it is associated with funerals, and blue and black represent bad luck.
Well then, what can you give during the Chinese New Year?
Anything in Red, Yellow, or Gold are always good options. These colors are the traditional Chinese new year colors, representing good luck and fortune.
Give gifts in the right numbers. Never give anything that amounts to four, whether it be four dollars, or four gifts. The number four sounds quite like death in Chinese. Besides four, the rest of the even numbers are fairly safe. The luckiest is 8, so give gifts in eight if you want to be super auspicious.
When it comes to gift giving etiquette, there are more things to keep in mind.
Always use two hands to give a gift. Using two hands symbolizes that you have respect towards the recipient.
Give crisp and new money. This is because it is supposed to represent a new year, and giving old or torn money is considered highly disrespectful.
When giving to a family or group, start with the oldest or most senior member. This comes from the tradition of respecting your elders.
It is considered bad form to immediately open a gift as soon as you get it. This conveys disrespect towards the giver, showing that you care more about the gift than the person who gave it to you. Instead, place it aside, and convey your thanks and appreciation.
There is, of course lots more to the Lunar New Year, but these are the basics! As one of the oldest celebrations in China, these traditions come along with it.
So Happy Chinese New Year (or belated), and have a great 2021!