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Happy Lunar New Year!

Gong xi fa cai! The year of Rabbit is officially here and, if you didn’t know, 2023 is predicted to be a year of hope as the sign of the Rabbit is a symbol of longevity, peace and prosperity in Chinese culture.

Growing up, Chinese New Year has always been one of my favourite holidays. Not only does this fall after Christmas, but it also breaks up the typically gloomy month of January. Having grown up in Hong Kong with grandparents from mainland China and Shanghai, Chinese New Year is a BIG deal for my family (and a lot of other families). It is the equivalent of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve all mixed into one. We certainly go big and celebrate in style.

In the lead up to Chinese New Year, people typically celebrate with great enthusiasm and grandeur, starting with making sure houses are cleaned and decorated with red banners. The best part is that the celebration generally lasts for a period of 15 days!

To kick off Chinese New Year, families traditionally get together for reunion dinners on Chinese New Year’s Eve (团年饭 tuan nian fan in Mandarin). It is believed to bring good fortune for the coming year and some of the most common foods include dumplings, braised mushrooms, fish, and glutinous rice cakes – each region has different traditional foods but most of these dishes derive from their pronunciation or appearance. After dinner, we’d head home and make sure the house is clean and ready for the Chinese God of Wealth (财神 Caishen in Mandarin) to arrive at midnight. My mum has always said to leave all the lights on so he won’t miss our house and will bring wealth and prosperity to the family for the New Year.

Some other interesting superstitions I grew up with include:

  • Don’t wash your hair on Chinese New Year Day as you will be washing away your riches and good fortune – the same goes for getting a haircut.
  • No clothes washing as it washes away good luck.
  • Cleaning or throwing garbage may sweep away good luck, so best to avoid.
  • Wear red as it wards off evil and represents success and celebration! Some who are concerned about their fortune in the new year even wear red underwear for good luck.

During the span of Chinese New Year, people typically wear red as it has a great significance in festivities. It is a Chinese custom to hand out red packets (红包 hongbao in Mandarin) to the younger, unmarried members of the family once you get married (and presumably older) yourself. You will find bills in your local currency inside these packets, and the closer you are to the giver the higher amount of money you will receive. They are supposed to symbolise luck and happiness and even possess the power to ward off evil spirits! As kids, we absolutely loved going around to everyone’s house as my brother and I would also compete against each other and see who got the most red packets while our parents take part in a Mahjong marathon with all the other parents. For those who don’t know, Mahjong (麻将 mahjong in Mandarin) is a game of skill, strategy and luck. It is played across generations and people get REALLY excited about it.

Looking back, what I love the most about Chinese New Year is getting to spend quality time with my family and enjoy my grandma’s cooking. I may be biased but her cooking is hard to top and this Lunar New Year, whether you are celebrating or not, I wish you a Happy Lunar New Year!


Authored by Tiffany Tam.