Chinese New Year: Cultural Traditions You Need To Know

Chinese New Year image

Chinese New Year is a special festival that celebrates the start of a new year according to the Chinese calendar.

It is also called the Spring Festival and happens between January and February.

People from many different cultures and backgrounds come together to celebrate this special time of year.

It is a time to have fun, eat special food, and spend time with family.

Moreover, people celebrate it with special parties and lots of lights.

I will introduce you to the details of the Chinese New Year!

What is Chinese New Year?

Chinese New Year is a special festival celebrated in many parts of the world.

It is also known as the Lunar New Year or the Spring Festival.

Chinese New Year is an important holiday in Chinese culture.

It happens on different dates each year, so some countries change the days they work to make it a longer holiday.

In some countries, if Chinese New Year falls on a weekend, they make the next day a holiday too.

People call it different names like

  • Chinese New Year
  • Lunar New Year
  • New Year Festival
  • Spring Festival

People around the world celebrate it in different ways, and it is celebrated in many different countries.

People celebrate by getting together for a special reunion dinner and cleaning their house to get rid of any bad luck.

Every year people celebrate the Chinese New Year to remember the story of the Nian  (a beast that lives under the sea or in the mountains).

People wear red clothes, hang red decorations, set off firecrackers, and make lots of noise to scare away the Nian.

This myth left us with the following customs:

  • Decorate windows and doors with red paper-cuts and couplets
  • Light firecrackers
  • Give money in red paper envelopes

Chinese New Year is the start of a new year on the Chinese calendar.

It usually falls on a day between the 21st of January and the 20th of February, and is based on the lunar month and the winter solstice.

Chinese New Year traditional food

On New Year's Eve, families get together for a big, special dinner.

There is usually lots of special meats and seafood like

  • pork
  • chicken
  • fish
  • duck
  • Chinese sausage
  • lobster
  • abalone

Fish is always served and they don't eat it all, because it sounds like a Chinese phrase that means "good luck every year".

Eight dishes are usually served, but if someone in the family died the previous year, seven dishes are served.

People also eat special foods on this day that symbolize

  • good luck
  • long life
  • wealth

There are noodles, fruits, dumplings, spring rolls, and sweet rice balls.

  • The noodles: Long life
  • The fruits: Luck and wealth
  • The dumplings and spring rolls: Wealth
  • The sweet rice ballsFamily togetherness

By the way, some families also don't eat meat on New Year's Day because it is believed to bring good luck for the whole year.

Chinese New Year's history

Chinese people have been celebrating the New Year for thousands of years.

In the past, they would clean their homes and hold special ceremonies.

They also wished each other good luck by sending cards.

People still do these things today to celebrate the start of the New Year.

Tang Dynasty

During the Tang dynasty, people started sending greeting cards called bai nian to tie on New Year's Day as a way to show good luck and celebrate together.

Emperor Taizong of Tang wrote special messages on gold leaves and sent them to his ministers.

People also used Xuan paper instead of gold leaves.

*Xuan paper is a kind of paper originating in ancient China used for writing and painting.

People began sending these cards because they wanted to thank their teachers for helping them do well in their exams.

The Chunlian was written by an emperor a long time ago.

It is about celebrating the new year and looking forward to a long-lasting spring.

Song Dynasty

People during the Song dynasty used to hang the Chunlian on their bedroom door on New Year's Eve.

Chinese people used to fire bamboo poles to make loud noises, but over time they invented gunpowder and started making fireworks out of paper and gunpowder.

They still call these fireworks "Firecracker (爆竹)" and use them for celebrations like the Chinese New Year.

In the Song dynasty, people gave money to children to celebrate the new year.

This money was called sui nian qian, which means "money based on age".

The emperor's children were given 120 coins to wish them a long life.

Yuan Dynasty

At the start of the new year, people during the Yuan dynasty gave cakes called nian gao to their relatives to celebrate.

Chinese people have been eating dumplings on New Year's Day for hundreds of years.

People put special food like

  • dates
  • candy
  • nian gao

inside the dumplings.

They also put silver coins inside the dumplings, and whoever gets the money will be very lucky!

At the Chinese New Year, adults give children special money called Ya Sui Qian.

It is either coins strung on a red string or a colored purse filled with coins.

Modern Chinese New Year

The Chinese New Year is an important holiday in China.

In 1928, Chinese leaders wanted it to happen on a different day, but people disagreed and it was changed back.

Chinese man image

Don't celebrate it!

During the Cultural Revolution, people were told it.

But in 1980, the old celebrations were brought back and the Chinese New Year is celebrated again.

Chinese New Year festival

During the festival, Chinese people will make special food to share with their families and friends.

The food looks and tastes different depending on the region.

Two of the most popular dishes are

  • Dumplings from northern China
  • Tangyuan from southern China

Preceding days - New Year's Eve

On the eighth day before Chinese New Year, people have a special breakfast of Laba Porridge.

People also clean their homes and decorate them with special paper cutouts.

They buy new clothes and shoes and get their hair cut.

Businesses pay off any debts from the past year.

People also burn decorations from the past year and give offerings to the gods.

On New Year's Eve, a prayer of thanksgiving is said.

The Chinese New Year is a special day when people have a big feast, eat dumplings and Nian Gao, and have parties.

They also light firecrackers and stay up late to wish for a good year ahead.

First day - Fourth day

On Chinese New Year, families gather together and give each other red envelopes with money inside to bring luck and prosperity.

  • Light fireworks and firecrackers to ward off evil spirits
  • Give each other mandarin oranges to show wealth and good luck

On the second day of the Chinese New Year, people visit their family and friends to renew their relationships.

They also pray to their respective deities.

  • God of Wealth : Give money to  to wish for a good year
  • Che Kung : Go to temples to pray for blessings from the god

The third day of Chinese New Year, it's called "Red Mouth" or "Red Dog Day".

People burn paper offerings over trash fires and it's considered unlucky to have guests or go visiting.

People also go to the temple of the God of Wealth to have their future told.

Chinese New Year is celebrated for 15 days in some places.

On the fourth day, people have special dinners and go back to their normal lives.

Other places that celebrate for longer have a special day to welcome the gods.

Fifth day - Seventh day

On the 5th day, the god of Wealth's birthday is celebrated in China and Taiwan.

People eat dumplings on the morning of the 5th day and businesses re-open on the next day.

People also shoot off firecrackers to get the god of Wealth's attention and get good luck for the new year.

On the 6th day, people drive away the Ghost of Poverty by throwing out things they don't want anymore to make room for new things.

This shows the hope of the Chinese people to have a better life.

Renri on the 7th day is a special day celebrated by Chinese people all over the world when everyone gets one year older.

They eat a special salad called yusheng for luck and wealth.

Some people also don't eat meat to remember the birth of a special person called Sakra, the guardian deity of Buddhism.

Eighth day - Tenth day

On the 8th day, people celebrate the eve of the Jade Emperor's birthday with a family dinner.

The next day, store owners say thank you to their employees for the work they've done all year by hosting a lunch or dinner.

On the ninth day of the Chinese New Year, people thank the Jade Emperor of Heaven by offering prayers and sugarcane.

In the morning, families set up an altar with special offerings and kneel three times and kowtow nine times.

  • Incense
  • tea
  • fruit
  • other foods

are also served.

The tenth day is the day to celebrate the Jade Emperor's birthday.

The Lantern Festival of the 15th day 

On the 15th day of the New Year, people in China and Malaysia celebrate the Lantern Festival.

People eat a sweet rice ball soup called tangyuan and light candles outside their houses.

Families sometimes carry lanterns with riddles written on them.

Single people also look for romantic partners, like on Valentine's Day.

They write their contact numbers on oranges and throw them in a river.

The Lantern Festival marks the end of the New Year celebrations.

If you want to know more about the Lantern Festival,

Please read the article here.

What do you do in the Spring Festival?

People like to watch special movies with their families and friends.

The movies feature actors from different troupes from the Qing Dynasty.

They are usually comedies and are made by Hong Kong filmmakers.

This time of year is also called Chunyun and is the biggest time of travel in the world, with more people traveling than the total population of China.

What do people do during the Chinese New Year?

Hand over red envelopes

During the Chinese New Year, married couples or the elderly give red packets with money inside to children to bring them good luck.

The money is meant to protect the children from any bad spirits.

Red envelopes are special envelopes that people give each other during Chinese celebrations, like Chinese New Year.

The envelopes usually have money inside and the money is usually an even number like 8 or 6.

People avoid the number 4, because it sounds like "death".

The money inside is usually new.

It is polite for the children to wish the married adults a happy new year before accepting the envelope.

After they get the envelope, they should sleep on it for seven nights before opening it, which is believed to bring them good luck and fortune.

In Taiwan in the 2000s, some employers gave money as a bonus to people who worked for them.

Recently, people have been sending "virtual red envelopes" as presents through their phones.

Red envelope meaning

On New Year’s Eve, long ago, people used to light up their homes to keep a monster called sui away.

Sui was known to touch the heads of sleeping children, which could make them sick and even mentally disabled.

To protect their kids, people stayed up all night and started the tradition of “protecting sui”.

This story is about an elderly couple who had a precious son.

On New Year's Eve, they put eight copper coins in a red paper bag and put it under their son's pillow to keep him safe from a sui, a scary creature.

The sui was scared away when the pillow glowed with golden light.

So, the copper coins kept the sui away and this became known as "ya sui qian" or money to suppress sui.

Here is another story.

A young orphan bravely defeated a big demon that was causing trouble in a village.

He used a magical sword to do it.

The people in the village gave the brave young man a red envelope with money inside as a reward for saving them.

Gift exchange

During Chinese New Year, the following gifts are exchanged with friends and family:

  • Fruits
  • Cakes
  • Chocolates
  • Candies

They are usually wrapped with red or golden paper, which symbolizes good luck.

It is important to be careful when giving gifts.

Some things are considered taboo and should not be given as gifts.

Examples of taboo gifts are things related to

  • funerals
  • clocks
  • knives
  • shoes
  • mirrors
  • words that sound like bad luck

Buy a new one

Chinese New Year is a special time of year.

People wear the color red and get new clothes to celebrate.

  • Red: Keep away bad spirits
  • New clothes: A fresh start

Each of these mean this way.

As the New Year approaches, people visit open-air markets to buy new things like flowers, toys, clothes, and even fireworks and firecrackers.

People also buy gifts and decorations for their houses.

In some places, people buy plum trees to decorate their homes just like people buy Christmas trees.

Why use firecrackers

In ancient China, people used bamboo stems filled with gunpowder to make small explosions to scare away evil spirits.

Nowadays, people use firecrackers during the festive season.

They are rolled up in red paper and when they are lit, they make loud popping noises.

Firecrackers are usually strung together and lit during special celebrations like Chinese New Year.

But some countries and towns have banned firecrackers.

Make decoration

For the Chinese Lantern Festival, people hang up colorful paper lanterns that come in different shapes and sizes.

Also, people hang following decorations to wish each other good luck.

  • Faichun
  • Chinese knots
  • Papercutting
  • Couplets

In addition, people decorate their homes with flowers for the New Year to bring luck and prosperity.

Popular flowers include following.

  • Plum blossoms (luckiness)
  • Kumquats (prosperity)
  • Calamondins (luck)
  • Narcissus (prosperity)
  • Bamboo (any time of year)
  • Sunflowers (good year)
  • Eggplant (heal sicknesses)
  • Chom mon plants (tranquility)

Chrysanthemums are not used because they are normally used for ancestors.

Dragon and Lion dance

Chinese New Year is a special time when people do special dances with drums and cymbals to scare away bad spirits.

There are dances which are popular.

  • Dragon dance
  • Lion dance

People also do lion dances to open businesses.

Countries affected by Spring Festival

Chinese New Year is a special celebration that happens in many places around the world.

It is especially big in places like

  • Sydney
  • London
  • San Francisco

People from all over come together to celebrate.


Chinese New Year is a fun two-day holiday in Malaysia.

People celebrate in big cities like

  • Kuala Lumpur
  • George Town
  • Johor Bahru
  • Ipoh

On New Year's Eve, it's a half-day holiday.


In Singapore, Chinese New Year is celebrated for two days with lots of fun activities like

  • a Festive Street Bazaar
  • nightly shows
  • a lion dance competition
  • a Chingay Parade with colorful floats and cultural performances

The Parade also includes

  • a Fire Party
  • performances from different cultures
  • a dance competition


In the Philippines, Chinese New Year is a very special holiday that is celebrated by both Chinese and non-Chinese people.

It is so important that it is now a public holiday and everybody can take a day off to celebrate it.


In Indonesia, Chinese New Year is called Tahun Baru Imlek and it is celebrated by Chinese people as a religious holiday.

It used to be restricted, but now it is officially a holiday.

In Indonesia, the Chinese New Year is celebrated as part of the Chinese religion and tradition of Chinese families.

It is the only national religious holiday that is celebrated by the Chinese community.

Chinese people in Indonesia have special celebrations every year with parades and fireworks.

Shopping malls are decorated with lanterns, Chinese words and dragon or lion sculptures, and lion dances are seen around Chinese houses, temples, and shops.

Chinese people burn incense with dragon decorations outside their houses and temples are open 24 hours on the first day.

They also give out red envelopes and sometimes food to the poor.


In Thailand, many people of Chinese descent live there.

They celebrate the Chinese New Year with lots of festivities.

Some places like

  • Nakhon Sawan
  • Suphan Buri
  • Phuket

are especially known for their celebrations and they help promote tourism.

On the Thai New Year, people celebrate three days.

  • On the first day: Go shopping for offerings
  • On the second day: Worship gods and their ancestors
  • On the third day: Wear red clothes and visit family and friends

Chinese New Year is a holiday celebrated in some parts of Thailand every year.

It is a special three-day celebration, and for 2021 it is also a government holiday.

People get a day off work and school to celebrate.

In Bangkok, there is a big celebration every year in Chinatown on Yaowarat Road.

The road is closed to traffic and a member of the royal family, like Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, comes to open the celebration.


Sydney has one of the biggest Chinese communities outside of Asia and each year celebrates Chinese New Year with over 600,000 people attending the celebrations in Chinatown.

There are lots of fun things to do like

  • lion and dragon dances
  • outdoor markets
  • parades and more

Other cities in Australia also celebrate Chinese New Year, with lots of different activities like markets and food festivals.

New Zealand

Wellington and Dunedin in New Zealand have festivals to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

North America

Groups in New York City are working together to put on a big celebration for the Lunar New Year.

The celebration includes lots of fun activities like

  • music
  • fireworks
  • special exhibits
  • a parade in Chinatown

The Mayor has even made it a school holiday so even more people can enjoy it.

The San Francisco Chinese New Year Festival and Parade is a very special event.

It is the oldest and biggest event of its kind in North America!

People march down two special streets, Grant Avenue and Kearny Street, and carry the followings.

  • Flags
  • Banners
  • Lanterns
  • Drums
  • Firecrackers

It has been going on since 1849 and is watched by over 500,000 people in person and 3 million on TV!

United Kingdom

In London, people around 300,000 - 500,000 every year come together to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

They have a parade with

  • colorful costumes
  • music
  • fireworks

There is also a big feast with lots of delicious food.


In Paris, every year people celebrate with lots of fun things to do.

There are parades with performers, music, and more.

It's a big event and lots of people come to watch it.


In The Netherlands, people celebrate special days by having parties and events in

  • The Hague
  • Amsterdam
  • Rotterdam


Chinese New Year is a festival celebrated by people of Chinese origin in Kolkata, India.

They do special dances with lions and dragons to celebrate.


In Pakistan, people from China celebrate their New Year.

The Chinese embassy in Islamabad puts on special events where people in Pakistan can learn more about Chinese culture.


In Mauritius, Chinese culture is celebrated every year during the Chinese New Year.

It is a public holiday where people from all over the country come together to celebrate the start of a new year with lots of fun activities and decorations.

Sino-Mauritians celebrate the Chinese Spring Festival.

They do things below.

  • Spring cleaning
  • Visiting pagodas
  • Having a big family dinner
  • Lighting firecrackers
  • Give red envelopes
  • Decorations like Chinese lanterns

On the day of the festival, they do things like dragon and lion dances too.

If you want to know more about the countries where Lunar New Year is celebrated,

Please read this article.

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