Chinese New Year is the biggest holiday on the Chinese calendar. It’s a time for families to come together, for big celebrations, and all of the traditions and rituals that come with it.
If you’re lucky enough to be in China - or Vietnam, Singapore or Laos - for the Lunar New Year, here’s what to look out for to celebrate like a local.
The ubiquitous Chinese dragons often provide the climax to New Year processions, operated by long chains of people to hold them aloft and dance along the route. Chinese lions are operated by a pair of acrobatic dancers or martial artists, and they’re believed to chase off evil spirits and bring good fortune.
Red is everywhere – it’s associated with wealth and good fortune in Chinese culture. Expect to see red lanterns, decorations and posters. Red envelopes, containing small (or large!) cash gifts, are traditionally given by senior family members to their junior relations, and bosses to their employees.
In the days before New Year it’s customary to spring clean, to sweep away the bad luck from the last year. Brooms are locked away on New Year’s Day, to ensure that good fortune isn’t swept away.
New Year festivities of all kinds wouldn’t be the same with the pyrotechnics. Traditionally, Chinese firecrackers – huge rolls of red paper with gunpowder – would be set off, the noise scaring off evil spirits as the red paper is scattered across the streets and squares from the explosions. Most cities ban firecrackers now, but the fireworks tradition continues on.
Worshippers traditionally visit temples on the third day of the New Year to light incense and pray for blessings and good luck in the year ahead. Back at home, shrines will be scrupulously cleaned and polished, and small bribes may be left for the gods to ensure good fortune.
Open-air markets selling decorations, red envelopes, toys and trinkets are very popular. In Hong Kong and Macau, it’s a tradition to give flowers at New Year so the markets are also flooded with orchids, peonies and other flowers and potted plants.