Gifts for Friends
Choosing a New Year gift for your friends is based mostly on the intimacy of your friendship. Choosing alcohol, tobacco, flowers, tea, or fruits is common. If you want to be more adventurous, you will need to be more circumspect.
- Alcohol: If your Chinese hosts drink alcohol, preparing a nice bottle of alcohol could be a nice choice.
- Tobacco: If your male Chinese host smokes, find out what he likes. He will appreciate a nice carton of whichever brand it is.
- Tea: Most Chinese people love tea. Tea is always a nice gesture no matter whether your hosts are Chinese or not. A nicely wrapped box of tea is much better than giving bagged tea for gifts.
- Fruits: Fruit baskets are a common and proper gift for your Chinese hosts, and they can be found in many large shops. Giving a box of oranges or a box of apples is also recommended, because apples and oranges respectively symbolize safety and fortune.
- Home Supplies: If your hosts have moved into a new house not long before hand, then home supplies such as a tea set, electrical equipment, or crockery are popular choices.
7 Types of Tea in China
The main classes of Chinese tea discussed below are green tea, yellow tea, white tea, oolong tea, black tea, dark tea or fermented tea and Pu’er tea.
1. Green Tea
Chinese green tea is the oldest and most popular type of tea; it has been enjoyed in China for several thousand years. Green tea is made from the new shoots of the tea plant, and the tea leaves are dried and processed according to the type of tea desired.Green Tea.
The techniques for processing green tea are sub-divided into three categories: water removing, rolling, and drying. Traditional green tea has a pale color and a sharp, astringent flavor.
2. Yellow Tea
Yellow tea is produced by allowing damp tea leaves to dry naturally. It has a distinctive aroma, similar to red tea, but its flavor is closer to green and white teas. Yellow tea is also used to describe the high-quality tea that was served to the emperors, as yellow wsa the traditional imperial color.Yellow Tea.Junshan Yinzhen is produced in China’s Hunan Province and is the country’s most popular yellow tea.
3. White Tea
White tea is unfermented, uncured green tea that has been quickly dried. It is indigenous to Fujan Province, and is lighter in color than other types of tea with a subtle, delicate flavor.White tea got its name from the tradition of poor Chinese people offering plain boiled water to guests, if they had no tea, and calling it “white tea”.
Popular brands of white tea are White Peony and Silver Needle.
4. Oolong Tea
Oolong tea, also known as blue tea, is unfermented tea with unique characteristics. Made from a blend of green and red teas, oolong tea boasts the best flavors and aromatic qualities of both. Sometimes called “green leaves with a red edge”, oolong tea is thought to aid in fat decomposition and is widely regarded as a weight loss aid and a beauty enhancer.
Wenshan Baozhong Tea and Dongding Oolong Tea are two exemplary brands of this popular tea.
Black tea is the second largest category of Chinese tea. It is made from the new shoots of tea leaves, which are wilted, rolled, fermented, and dried. The resulting infusion yields a lovely red color and a subtle aromatic fragrance. Keemun is the most popular brand of black tea.
6. Dark Tea
Dark tea is a kind of post-fermented tea, which undergoes an actual fermentation process aided by bacteria. The whole process comprises six steps: water removing, first-time rolling, heaping, second rolling, baking, and drying.The most common dark tea brands are Anhua Dark Tea, Hubei Laobian Tea, Sichuan Tibetan tea, and Guangxi Liubao Tea. Dark tea is very popular in Hong Kong, Macao, Southeast Asia and Japan.
7. Pu’er Tea
Pu’er tea is actually a dark tea, but deserves a category on its own because of its distinguishing features.There are two distinct types of Pu’er tea: sheng Pu’er (the raw or green Pu’er) and shu Pu’er (the ripened or black Pu’er).
Gifts for Seniors
- Hat, Gloves, Scarf or Clothes: If you are familiar with your hosts, you can prepare a hat, a pair of gloves, a scarf or some clothes as a gift for the seniors in your hosts’ family.
- Comb or Foot Bath Massager: In traditional Chinese medicine, massage is a gentle and effective way to repair one’s body. A high-quality comb can be used to massage the head, and a foot bath massager will improve the blood circulation of the feet, which will bring the seniors warmth in a cold winter.
Gifts for Kids
The key point to choosing a New Year gift for your hosts’ children is to select an item which can express your good wishes to the children, either for their healthy growth or for their cleverness.
- Candy: Take some candy with you during Chinese New Year; so that you can give some happiness to the kids you come across.
- Red Packets: If your Chinese hosts have children, do not forget to prepare some red packets (hongbao).
- School Supplies: Visiting your Chinese hosts with some school supplies like a writing pen, a school notebook or a nice box of painting brushes (if the kids are keen on painting) will give the kids a pleasant surprise.
- Books: Books such as enlightening reading materials or one of the world’s great classics, ideally chosen according the child’s interests, are also highly recommended, and will represent your best wishes for their future.
- Toys: A good-quality toy is also a nice gift for your hosts’ children, such as a Barbie doll for a little girl, and a remote control car for a little boy. A chess set or other game is a good gift for a teenager.
- Clothes: If you are quite intimate with your hosts’ family, you can buy their children a set of clothes as a gift. It can be a practical gift.
Things You Should Not Give as a New Year Gift
There are some things which are a big no-no to give to your Chinese friends during the Spring Festival. Don’t buy them, otherwise your friends may break up with you when receiving them.
- Things in black or white: Red is the lucky color in China. As black and white are often used at funerals, white or black presents and wrapping paper should be avoided.
- Necklaces: Don’t give a necklace as a gift to a platonic friend. Chinese people think things like necklaces, ties, and belts are associated with intimate relations. These things are often given by boyfriends/girlfriends or couples.
- A green hat: Wearing a green hat means one’s wife is unfaithful. So a green hat should be avoided.
Tips on Giving a Gift
- Do remember to remove the price tag. A gift with a price tag is a hint to the receiver that the gift is expensive, and that the sender is expecting a gift of the equal price.
- Don’t give the gift publicly, especially if giving a gift to only one person in a group (to avoid embarrassment, an appearance of favoritism, etc.).
- Do not visit a recently bereaved family at Spring Festival, if the Chinese family had the funeral less than a month before Chinese New Year, as this is said to be unlucky (bringing more funerals in the coming year).
- Take a pair of gifts with you, as Chinese people believe that good things should be in pairs.
Gifts Giving and Receiving Etiquette
Once you have settled on an appropriate goods or a sum of money to give, there are a couple of rules to follow when actually giving (or receiving) a gift.
1. When giving or receiving a gift always use two hands. This is a custom traditionally extended to the giving of things like money (when buying something) and business cards. It is an important part of gift-giving etiquette across the country as it shows respect and appreciation towards the act and the giver.
2. When giving money ensure it is crisp and new. People across China will spend the weeks preceding Chinese New Year withdrawing crisp notes from the bank. It is considered a sign of disrespect to give old or torn notes.
3. Always start by presenting a gift to the oldest (or most senior) member if giving money to a large group or whole family.
4. It is considered bad form to receive a gift and open it immediately in front of the giver. The person receiving the gift will likely express their thanks before putting the gift aside to open in private later; don’t take this as a sign of the receiver not showing gratitude or respect. It is expected that if you are receiving a gift you will do the same; put it to one side and open it at a later point.
New Year Gifts in Right Colors — Red, Yellow and Gold
When giving a gift at Chinese New Year pay close attention to the color of the gift as well as the wrapping paper or bag in which it is delivered.
The rules are simple; avoid white, as it is associated with funerals; and black or blue, as their are both synonymous with death.
The best choices are red, yellow and gold as they all symbolize wealth and prosperity.
If you are buying money packets for Chinese New Year don’t be mistaken into buying white envelopes for as they are used to give money at funerals.
New Year Gifts in Right Numbers — Even Number
Another thing to consider when planning gifts is Chinese superstition surrounding specific numbers. Never give a monetary amount that includes a four as the pronunciation of 四 (four) is very close to 死 (death). Besides four, most other even numbers are a safe choice. The luckiest number in China is eight so a number like 88 is an ideal amount to give.In addition to money, these rule can also be followed when it come to giving goods. A set of four gifts should be avoided; whereas a set of eight is considered to bring luck.
Chinese New Year Greetings — Lucky Phrases and Meanings
Beginnings of Greetings and Sayings
Greeting an older (or respected) person is a little different in Chinese: nín for ‘you’, instead of the common nǐ. For example:
Zhu nín… (/joo neen/)
Wish you (older/respected) …
Zhu nǐ … (/joo nee/)
Wish you (younger/informal) …
The Most Popular Greetings for Rooster Year 2017
Good luck for this Rooster year
Lots of luck for this Rooster year
Common Greetings and Sayings for the Chinese New Year
Happy New Year
Happy New Year
Happy New Year
Happy ‘New Spring’
Happy Spring Festival
Good fortune according to your wishes
Fortune will smile on you (‘lucky star high shines’)
Xīnxiǎng shì chéng
May all your wishes come true.
Lots of luck and profits
Greetings and Sayings for Health
Lóng mǎ jīngshén
The spirit of the dragon and horse
Enjoy good health
A bright and lively spirit (especially used for children under the age of 10, wishing them to be active and smart)
Greetings and Sayings at Work and for Business
Happiness and prosperity (use this when receiving gifts or lucky money)
‘Enter broadly wealth’s source’
May your work go smoothly
Success in your career
Have a meteoric rise (usually to wish for promotions)
Mǎ dào chénggōng
Promotions at every step
May your life go smoothly.
Win promotion and get rich
Greetings and Sayings for Students
Progress in studies
Success in the examination (for those taking an important examination, including students.
Greetings and Sayings for the Family
Felicity of the whole family
Happiness for the whole family
Gōngxǐ fācái, hóngbāo ná lái
Wishing you happiness and prosperity; give me a red envelope.
Chinese New Year Preparations and Celebrations (2017) — What Chinese Do
Pre-Chinese New Year Preparations (January 20–26, 2017)
Some Chinese start to celebrate and prepare for New Year as early as month 12 day 8 of the lunar calendar. This is a festival called Laba ( 腊八 Làbā /laa-baa/ ’12th lunar month’ + ‘8’). It’s January 5 in 2017.
Cleaning the House
From the 23rd of the 12th lunar month (January 20, 2017), Chinese people carry out a thorough cleaning of their houses. The cleaning is called “sweeping the dust”, and represents a wish to put away old things, bid farewell to the old year, and welcome the New Year.
New Year Shopping
People buy New Year food and snacks, New Year decorations, and clothes for New Year before New Year’s Eve. Chinese New Year, like Christmas in China, is a shopping boom time.
Chinese people may be thrifty most of the time, but they seem quite generous in their spending during their traditional festivals. For example, they buy everyone new clothes for the festival, whether they need them or not. There are New Year street markets on the days before the festival.
Chinese people may be thrifty most of the time, but they seem quite generous in their spending during their traditional festivals. For example, they buy everyone new clothes for the festival, whether they need them or not. There are New Year street markets on the days before the festival.
New Year’s Eve Activities (January 27, 2017)
Putting Up New Year Decorations
Although some people decorate their houses several days before the festival, most people do it on New Year’s Eve. Houses are decorated with red lanterns, red couplets, New Year paintings, and red lanterns. 2017 is a year of the Rooster, so monkey images will appear on decoratons. People may decorate their houses using some or all of the following things…
Affixing Door God Images
Pasting a door god image on the door is an important custom among Chinese people during Spring Festival. In the beginning door gods were made of peach wood carved into the figure of a man, hanging by the door. Later people pasted printed images on doors.
People paste door gods on doors as a prayer for blessings, longevity, health, and peace. Two door gods on double doors are thought to keep evil spirits from entering. The door gods symbolize righteousness and power in China, therefore Chinese door gods are always scowling, holding various weapons, and ready to fight with evil spirits.
Putting Up Spring Couplets
Spring couplets or New Year couplets (春联: Chūnlián /chwn-lyen/) are paired phrases, typically of seven Chinese characters each, written on red paper in black ink, and pasted one each side of a door frame.
Sometimes a phrase of four or five characters is affixed to the top of the door frame as well. New Year couplets are filled with best wishes. Some people write the couplets themselves, but most people buy them (ready printed) from the market. Pasting spring couplets is thought to keep evil away.
The Legend of Why Spring Couplets Are Pasted
It is recorded that the origin of spring couplets can be dated back to 1,000 years ago when people hung taofu (桃符, written charms on peach wood) on doors.
Legend has it that there was a huge peach tree stretching for more than 1,500 kilometers on a mountain in the ghost world. To the northeast of the tree, two guards named Shentu and Yulei guarded the entrance to the ghost world. They would catch the ghosts who harmed people and then sent them to tigers as food.
Therefore, all ghosts were afraid of the two guards. It was believed that to hang a piece of peach wood with an inscription of the two guards’ names on doors could scare evil things away.By the Song Dynasty (960-1279), people began to write two auspicious antithetical lines on the peach wood instead of the names of the two guards. Later, the peach wood was replaced by red paper, which symbolizes good luck and happiness. Since then, pasting spring couplets has been a custom to welcome the new year and express best wishes.
The History of Chinese Couplets
Chinese couplets originated in the Five Dynasties (907–960), and became ubiquitous in the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1636–1912) dynasties, in China and Vietnam, North Korea, Japan, and Singapore. It was a custom to hang peach wood charms on gates of homes to drive away evil spirits during the Spring Festival since before the Qin Dynasty (221–207 BC). Couplets are now used in a similar way.
It was said that the earliest couplet was written by Meng Xu (919–965), king of Houshu State (934–965) during the Five Dynasties (907–960), and it reads: “The New Year enjoys surplus celebrations; happy holiday sounds invoke lasting spring blessings.” 新年纳余庆,嘉节号长春
Xīnnián nà yú qìng; jiā jié hào cháng chūn.
The couplet became popular in the Northern Song Dynasty (690–1127), which is fully reflected from the last lines of the poem Spring Festival Eve by Wang Anshi (1021–1086). It reads “At countless homes a new day dawns; old peach wood charms are replaced with new.” 千门万户曈曈日,总把新桃换旧符
Qiān mén wàn hù tóng tóng rì; zǒng bǎ xīn táo huàn jiù fú.
Couplets were written on red paper instead of peach wood in the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), and since then to write couplets has been regarded as a mark of the cultured life of scholars.
Classification of Chinese Couplets
Generally speaking, the couplet has three forms: the spring couplet, hall couplet, and column couplet.
The spring couplet is written in black ink on red paper, one half affixed vertically each side of a door as a Spring Festival decoration, and usually expresses best wishes for the coming year.
The hall couplet, also known as a hanging scroll in Chinese culture, is usually put up in the center of the main hall of each household.
The column couplet is usually carved on the columns of architecture.
Characteristics of Chinese Couplets
It’s believed that the Chinese couplet evolved from the traditional Chinese metrical poem, and became more flexible. Characteristics of couplets are listed below.
The couplet has two equal-length lines, however the number of characters in each line can be from four to seven or more. Seven is most common, then five. The first line and the second line have inverse (or identical) tone patterns (each Chinese character is spoken as a syllable with one of four tones) — usually not closely followed. Corresponding characters must have the same lexical category (noun-noun, verb-verb, etc.). Many don’t follow this very closely. The last character of the first line is of an oblique tone, and its counterpart in the second line of a level tone. This is often followed.
Classic Chinese Couplets for Appreciation
Chinese people have written numerous excellent couplets, passed down from one generation to another. Below are some for your appreciation.
- 海阔凭鱼跃,天高任鸟飞Hǎi kuò píng yú yuè; tiān gāo rèn niǎo fēi.A wide sea lets fish jump; a high sky lets birds fly.
- 书山有路勤为径,学海无涯苦作舟Shū shān yǒu lù qín wèi jìng; xué hǎi wú yá kǔ zuò zhōu.A mountain of books has a way and diligence is the path; the sea of learning has no end and hard work is the boat.
- 路遥知马力,日久见人心Lù yáo zhī mǎlì; rì jiǔ jiàn rénxīn.Distance tests a horse’s strength; time reveals a person’s heart.
Yīfānfēngshùn niánnián hǎo, wànshìrúyì bùbù gāo
Smooth sailing with each year; success with each step.
- 天增岁月人增寿,春满乾坤福满门Tiān zēng suìyuè rén zēng shòu; chūn mǎn qiánkūn fú mǎnménHeaven adds time and people get older; spring fills the world and blessing fills the door.
- 长长长长长长长,长长长长长长长Zhǎng cháng zhǎng cháng zhǎngzhǎng cháng; cháng zhǎng cháng zhǎng chángcháng zhǎng.‘Grow long, grow long, continue to grow long;
always growing, always growing, continually growing.’ (attributed to a grower of beans)
The Origin of Paper Umbrella
The colorfully decorated, almost gauze-like Chinese paper umbrella is as quintessentially Chinese as chop sticks. The collapsible Chinese paper umbrella is believed to have existed in China since before the beginning of the Christian era, though the first historical reference to the Chinese paper umbrella stems from the 21 CE mention of a paper umbrella made for the 4-wheeled “chariot” of Emperor Wang Mang (Wang Mang was a royal official who usurped the throne for a short period – generally referred to as the Wang Mang interregnum – creating the short-lived Xin (CE 9-24) Dynasty).
According to written references by a high-ranking military officer, Fu Qian, who served during the Three Kingdoms (CE 220-280) Period, the paper umbrella of Emperor Wang Mang had articulated joints which allowed the umbrella to be extended and retracted, though the description does not lead one to assume that the umbrella was collapsible in the sense that we know it. However, there is every reason to believe that the “technology” for a collapsible umbrella existed during the lifetime of Wang Mang, for a collapsible umbrella has since been excavated from the burial site of Wang Mang’s son, Wang Guang, in what is present-day Korea, and archeological finds carbon dated to the 6th century BCE suggest the existence of special, articulated joints made of brass with a locking device that could be used in a host of applications, including in the construction of a collapsible umbrella.
Emperor Qin’s Tomb, the site of the famous Terracotta Army (Emperor Qin, the first Chinese ruler to delcare himself an emperor, founded the Qin (BC 221-207) Dynasty) reveals a terracotta army chariot with an umbrella that fits in a tube attached to the side of the chariot, but this umbrella is not collapsible, nor can we be certain that the original, terracotta being a form of fired clay, was made of paper, silk, or some other material).
The Making of Paper Umbrella
The quintessentially Chinese umbrella is made of one of two types of material: silk or paper. Silk umbrellas are the most expensive and the most exquisite, but also the most difficult to fashion and to maintain. Paper umbrellas are easier to fashion, they can be treated with oil to make them impermeable, or water resistant, and they lend themselves admirably to artistic decoration. Most paper umbrellas produced today are made impermeable with glutinous tung oil (aka Chinawood oil, from the euphorbiaceous tree, Aleurites fordii, found throughout central Asia). The main areas of production of impermeable Chinese paper umbrellas are Fujian and Hunan Provinces.
The construction process of the fixed umbrella involves 5 parts: the head, the handle, the ribs, the paper shade and the artistic embellishment (a collapsible umbrella naturally involves a 6th part: articulated joints). The production of each part requires great skill, since all 5 parts must assemble to a perfectly formed umbrella. Though each part of the 5-part umbrella is important, the three most demanding parts to produce are the ribs, the paper shade and its artistic embellishment. The ribs must be made of a material that is both strong and pliable. The most common material for the ribs is bamboo that is at least 5 years old, otherwise the resins in the bamboo that permit strength combined with flexibility will not have been developed. The alternative material used in the construction of umbrella ribs is the bark of the mulberry tree. Although it consists of only 5 (alternatively 6) parts, the creation of a Chinese paper umbrella involves 80 work processes in order to achieve the finished product.
The paper shade itself is made of a special, tissue-thin fibrous paper that is very strong and tear-resistant, which is then impregnated in a bath of tung oil, rendering the paper highly translucent – almost transparent, in fact. Once impregnated with the glutinous tung oil and allowed to dry, the paper shade is decorated. The decorations vary from solid colors to drawings of flowers, birds, blossoms, landscapes, etc., as well as calligraphic characters. Much work is invested in the artistic embellishment of the paper shade, it being one of the highlights of the Chinese paper umbrella. Besides being water resistant, the paper shade will withstand the ravages of wind and rain, just as its decorations will resist the tendency to fade over time. In this sense, the craftsmanship behind the production of the Chinese paper umbrella tolerates comparison to Japanese lacquer art.
Putting Up New Year Paintings
New Year paintings carrying best wishes are put up to decorate houses, creating a happy and prosperous Spring Festival atmosphere.
The subjects of New Year paintings are often flowers and birds, plump boys and Guanyin (the Goddess of Mercy… and fertility), golden roosters, oxen, ripe fruit and treasure, or other legends and historical stories, showing desires for bountiful harvests and a happy life.
“The Four Homelands of the New Year Painting” are New-Year-Painting Village in Mianzhu, Sichuan Province; Taohuawu in Suzhou, Yangliuqing in Tianjin, and Weifang in Shandong.
Putting Up Paper Cutouts
In the past people pasted paper cutouts on windows facing south and north before the Spring Festival. Paper cutouts are still popular with northerners, but people in the south only paste paper cutouts on wedding days.
The subjects and themes of paper cutouts are rich. As the majority of buyers are peasants many are about rural life: farming, weaving, fishing, tending sheep, feeding pigs, raising chickens, etc. Paper cutouts sometimes depict myths, legends, and Chinese operas. Also flowers, birds, and Chinese Zodiac creatures are popular paper cutout designs
The 12 Animals of the Chinese Zodiac
In order, the 12 animals are: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig.
Paper cutouts are usually diamond-shaped in lucky red, with beautiful and exaggerated patterns. They express hopes of a merry and prosperous life, in line with the Spring Festival theme.
Enjoying a Reunion Dinner
The New Year’s Eve Feast is a “must do” dinner with all family members reuniting. Chinese try very hard to make this family event, often traveling long distances. This is the main reason for the huge travel stress throughout China.
People from north and south China eat different foods on this special occasion, and many New Year foods are symbolic. In northern China a traditional dish for the feast is jiaozi (dumplings).
They are shaped like old Chinese ingots, symbolizing wealth. Southern Chinese eat niangao (sticky rice cake) on this special day, because niangao sounds like “yearly higher”, symbolizing improvement.
Watching CCTV’s New Year Gala
It’s become a China custom for many familes to watch the CCTV New Year Gala while having their dinner. The Gala starts at 8pm and ends at midnight when the New Year arrives, featuring traditional, folk, and pop performances from China’s best singers, dancers, and acrobats.
Giving Red Envelopes (Lucky Money) to Kids
Parents usually give their children red envelopes after the reunion dinner, wishing them health, growth, and good studies in the coming year. Red envelopes always have money in. Money in red envelopes is believed to bring good luck, as red is China’s lucky color, so it’s called lucky money.
Staying Up Late
This custom is called shousui (守岁 /show-sway/ ‘to keep watch over the year’). Chinese stayed up all night in the past, but now most stay up only till the midnight firecrackers and fireworks die down.
Listening to a New Year Bell
A bell is a traditional symbol of Chinese New Year, and Chinese believe that ringing a large bell can drive all bad luck away and bring good fortune. Chinese people like to go to large squares or temples where there are huge bells rung on New Year’s Eve at midnight.
In recent years people have begun to go to mountain temples to wait for the first ringing of a bell in the new year. Hanshan Temple in Suzhou, in East China’s Jiangsu Province, is famous for its bell to herald Chinese New Year. The custom is even beginning to be adopted by the expat community there.
Chinese New Year’s Day (January 28, 2017)
Chinese people believe what they do on the first day of the lunar year affects their luck in that year.
Setting Off Firecrackers and Fireworks
The moment New Year arrives there is a cacaphony of fireworks and firecrackers all around, even in rural China. Consider earplugs — it’s like World War III! Fireworks sound like rocket lauchers, and chains of firecrackers make machine-gun-like noises. Families stay up for this joyful moment.
In major cities: Lighting firecrackers is one of the most important customs of the Chinese New Year celebration, but because of the danger and the noise disturbance they cause, the government has banned this practice in many major cities, such as Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai. Fireworks that explode in the air are still allowed in most of the country.
People in smaller cities, towns, and rural areas still practice the firecracker tradition, and it isn’t generally considered dangerous. Just as the clock strikes 12, cities and towns are lit up with the bang and sparkle of fireworks bursting in the air. The booms from man firework displays help to make it astoundingly loud in many places.
Kids, with (mini) firecrackers in one hand and a lighter in another, cheerfully celebrate by throwing the small explosives one-by-one on the street whilst plugging their ears. Mini hand-held rocket launchers are also popular with children, which launch 10 or 20 small fireworks at 5 second intervals, looping across the streets.
Many people attend or watch the public and private firework displays exploding for about forty minutes from their windows.
Offering Sacrifices to Ancestors
Where: A popular custom since ancient times, ancestor worship varies widely across China — from sweeping tombs in the wild to worshiping ancestors in ancestral halls or temples. Many (especially rural) people offer sacrifices to their ancestors in the main hall of the house, where an ancestor altar is displayed. Then family members kneel and bow in front of the wall-mounted shrine, from the oldest to the youngest.
When: This custom is performed on several days of the Spring Festival, but most importantly on New Year’s Day. Ancestor worship has been practiced in China every year for thousands of years.
Why: Offering sacrifices to ancestors shows respect, piety, and missing departed relatives on such a special festival. It is also believed that ancestral spirits will protect their descendants and make them become prosperous (if regularly worshiped with incense and offerings).
Putting on New Clothes and Extending New Year Greetings
On the first day of the New Year, Chinese put on new clothes, and say “gongxi” (恭喜 /gong-sshee/ literally ‘respectful joy’, it means ‘greetings’ or ‘best wishes’), and wish each other good luck and happiness in the New Year. It is customary for the younger generation to visit their elders, and wish them health and longevity.
In recent years, a new way to do New Year greetings has appeared, especially among the young. Busy people who don’t have time to visit their friends or relatives send a New Year card, a WeChat red envelope or a text message instead.
Watching Lion and Dragon Dances
Lion dances and dragon dances might be seen too on New Year’s Day. Once very popular in China, they are reappearing in many places though. They are more popular in Hong Kong and Macau.
Chinese New Year Lion Dance
The Origin and History of Lion Dances
Opinions about the origin of the lion dance are widely divided. The most reliable one is this:
In traditional Chinese culture, the lion, like the Chinese dragon, was only an animal which existed in myth, and there were no actual lions in China. Before the Han Dynasty (202 BC–220 AD), only a few lions had reached the Central Plains from the western area of ancient China (now Xinjiang), due to Silk Road trade.
At that time, people mimicked the appearance and actions of the newly arrived lions in a performance, which developed into the lion dance in the Three Kingdoms Period (220–280) and then became popular with the rise of Buddhism in the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420–589). In the Tang Dynasty (618–907), the lion dance was one of the court dances.
After that lion dances continued to become a popular performance among the people, to pray for good luck during the Spring Festival or during other celebrations.
The lion dance is an excellent example of Chinese folk culture, which has spread across the world with Chinese immigration. Overseas Chinese in Europe, America, etc. have established many lion dance clubs, performing on Chinese festivals or big occasions, particularly Chinese New Year.
The Lion Costume
Lion dances are performed by two “dancers” in a lion costume, rather like a pantomime horse. The performers become the body of the lion: the one in front is the head and front limbs, the one behind is the back and hind legs. Performers’ legs are dressed the same color as the lion’s body, and sometimes the costume extends to shoes the shape and color of the lion’s paws.
The lion head is usually over-sized and dragon-like, like many stone lions in China.
Styles of Lion Dance
Though lion dances all use similar costumes, during its long development, the lion dance has divided into two styles: southern and northern.
The Southern Lion Dance
The southern lion dance originated in Guangdong, and it is the style popular in Hong Kong, Macau, and the hometowns of overseas Chinese.
The southern lion dance is a performance based on the study of a lion’s behavior, with an emphasis on actions like scratching, shaking of the body, and licking of fur.
Performances are vivid and entertaining, even comical. There are also skillful performances, such as playing with a ball, which includes swallowing it.
The best place to see a southern Chinese lion dance is the Hong Kong Chinese New Year Performance Night.
The Parade and Entertainment on New Year’s Day
(Saturday, January 28, 2017)
Holiday Kickoff: The Tsim Sha Tsui streets hop to the beating music, and the crowds enjoy the parade.
Large crowds line the streets and make way for the parade near Victoria Harbor. The parade will go by some Hong Kong highlights such as the Avenue of Stars, Kowloon Park, and the Golden Mile of Nathan Road.
Dozens of floats proceed down the streets with dozens of performing groups and bands. They are accompanied by groups of dancers, jugglers, marching bands, children, drummers, skaters and bikers of various nationalities. Hong Kong is an international city with influences from around the world.
Program for the Parade
- Preliminary entertainment: 6:30 to 8 pm along the route.
- Main event: 8:00 to 9:30 pm.
Route: Starting at the plaza of the Hong Kong Cultural Center near the Avenue of Stars in Tsim Sha Tsui, the procession goes down Canton Road, Haiphong Road, Nathan Road and Salisbury Road. Then the show concludes in front of the Sheraton Hotel.
The entertainment before the parade usually starts at 6:00 or 6:30. Entertainers entertain along the parade route. But the main parade begins at 8. There are paid grandstands, but you can watch for free on Canton Road, Haiphong Road, and Nathan Road along the way.
Symphony of Lights: The parade begins in conjunction with the start of the nightly Symphony of Lights that holds a world record for such an urban light display. The Avenue of Stars next to the Cultural Center is the best place to see the laser lights and the colorful lights of the buildings.
Floats and Performances
Dozens of performing groups and bands participate every year. In 2011 for example, the parade featured 1,111 lions and dragons. In 2014, there were 35 or so floats of companies and associations from around the world, and they were preceded by groups of performers and entertainers of many nationalities.
In 2016, 13 floats representing 10 including countries and regions were featured. There were also performing groups from countries including Germany, Japan, and the Philippines. Performing groups from Hong Kong participated with dragon dances, choreographic rope skipping and dance routines. It shows that Hong Kong is an international city with influences from all over the world.
The Northern Lion Dance
The northern lion dance has close relations to kungfu — Chinese martial arts. A young lion is performed by a single person and an adult lion is performed by a duo. Costumes are more robust, and less decorative, to allow for more movement.
In the adult lion dance, the performer in front holding the lion’s head is often lifted by the other to make the lion stand up. Northern lion dances are more gymnastic, involving rolling, wrestling, leaping, jumping, climbing, or kowtowing.
New Year: Day 2 (January 29, 2017)
Traditionally a married daughter visits the house of her parents on the second day of Chinese New Year.
New Year: Days 3–7 (January 30–February 3, 2017)
Chinese visit relatives and friends from the 3rd day to the 7th day.
From the third day to the seventh day, Chinese visit relatives and friends.
On the third day, some Chinese go to visit the tombs of their clan or relatives, but some think being outside on the third day is inauspicious because evil spirits roam around.
The first house sweep of the new year: Chinese don’t clean the house the first two days of the New Year, as sweeping then is believed to sweep away the good luck accrued by the mess of firecrackers, red paper, wrappers, and other evidence of the celebrations on the floor.
New Year: Day 8 (February 4, 2017)
People normally return to work by the eighth day. As eight is the luckiest number in China, most businesses prefer to reopen on New Year day 8.
New Year: Day 15 (February 11, 2017)
The fifteenth day of the New Year is the Lantern Festival (元宵节 Yuánxiāo Jié /ywen-sshyaou jyeah/). It is the traditional end of the Spring Festival celebrations. People send aloft glowing lanterns into the sky while others let floating lanterns go on the sea, on rivers, or set them adrift in lakes.
Lantern Festival Facts
- Popular Chinese name: 元宵节 Yuánxiāojié /ywen-sshyaoww jyeah/ ‘first night festival’
- Alternative Chinese name: 上元节 Shàngyuánjié /shung-ywen-jyeah/ ‘first first festival’
- Date: Lunar calendar month 1 day 15 (February 11, 2017)
- Importance: ends China’s most important festival, the Spring Festival
- Celebrations: enjoying lanterns, lantern riddles, eating tangyuan a.k.a. yuanxiao (ball dumplings in soup), lion dances, dragon dances, etc.
- History: about 2,000 years
- Greeting: Happy Lantern Festival! 元宵节快乐！Yuánxiāojié kuàilè! /ywen-sshyaoww-jyeah kwhy-luh
When Did the Lantern Festival Begin?
The Lantern Festival can be traced back to 2,000 years ago.
In the beginning of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25–220), Emperor Hanmingdi was an advocate of Buddhism. He heard that some monks lit lanterns in the temples to show respect to Buddha on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. Therefore, he ordered that all the temples, households, and royal palaces should light lanterns on that evening.
This Buddhist custom gradually became a grand festival among the people.
How Do Chinese Celebrate the Lantern Festival?
According to China’s various folk customs, people get together on the night of the Lantern Festival to celebrate with different activities.
As China is a vast country with a long history and diverse cultures, Lantern Festival customs and activities vary regionally, including lighting and enjoying (floating, fixed, held, and flying) lanterns, appreciating the bright full moon, setting off fireworks, guessing riddles written on lanterns, eating tangyuan, lion dances, dragon dances, and walking on stilts.
The most important and prevalent customs are enjoying lanterns, guessing lantern riddles, eating tangyuan, and lion dances.
Lighting and Watching Lanterns
Lighting and appreciating lanterns is the main activity of the festival. When the festival comes, lanterns of various shapes and sizes (traditional globes, fish, dragons, goats! — in 2015, up to stories high!) are seen everywhere including households, shopping malls, parks, and streets, attracting numerous viewers. Children may hold small lanterns while walking the streets.
The lanterns’ artwork vividly demonstrates traditional Chinese images, such as fruits, flowers, birds, animals, people, and buildings.
In the Taiwanese dialect, the Chinese word for lantern (灯 dēng) is pronounced similarly to (丁 dīng), which means ‘a new-born baby boy’. Therefore lighting lanterns means illuminating the future and giving birth.
Lighting lanterns is a way for people to pray that they will have smooth futures and express their best wishes for their families. Women who want to be pregnant would walk under a hanging lantern praying for a child.
Guessing Lantern Riddles
Guessing (solving) lantern riddles, starting in the Song Dynasty (960–1279), is one of the most important and popular activities of the Lantern Festival. Lantern owners write riddles on paper notes and pasted them upon the colorful lanterns. People crowd round to guess the riddles.
If someone thinks they have the right answer, they can pull the riddle off and go to the lantern owner to check their answer. If the answer is right, there is usually a small gift as a prize.
As riddle guessing is interesting and informative, it has become popular among all social strata.
There Is Best to See Lanterns in China?
During the Lantern Festival many lantern fairs are held in China, offering tourists the chances to experience Lantern Festival celebrations in public places. Here we recommend four top places for you to appreciate spectacular and colorful lanterns and performances.
- Qinhuai International Lantern Festival (the biggest in China!) is from January 28 to February 14, 2017, at Confucius Temple, Qinhuai Scenic Zone, Nanjing.
- Beijing Yanqing Lantern Festival Flower Exhibition is from the middle of January to the end of February, 2017, in Yanqing County, Beijing.
- Xiamen Lantern Festival is estimated from January 30 to February 14, 2017, at Yuanboyuan Garden, Xiamen City.
- Shanghai Datuan Peach Garden Lantern Festival is from February to March, 2017, at Datuan Peach Garden, 888 Caichuan, Datuan Town, Pudong New District, Shanghai (adults: 40 yuan, students and children under 1.3m: 20 yuan, over 60s: 32 yuan).