Celebrating Chinese New Year

Happy Chinese New Year! Yes, although it’s a week ago, I’m still saying that to my Chinese friends. That’s because the lunar New Year is not a one day celebration. New Year’s Eve is as big an event as New Year’s Day. In this blog, I will explain a few of the traditions and etiquette in celebrating Chinese New Year.

Traditions of Chinese New Year

Symbols of dinner courses

New Year’s Eve is a time for the entire family to have dinner together. It’s like how Americans have their whole family together for Thanksgiving dinner. And one of the courses on the menu is fish. There is a significance to this. Chinese appreciate homonyms more than many cultures. The pronunciation of “fish” is similar to that of “surplus.” A surplus at the end of a year is a very good thing, implying more abundance the next year.

Another food is a special glutinous rice cake made for only this time of year. The pronunciation of the cake sounds like two other words, which means “higher every year.” Higher equates growth–in business, in school, in height for children. So eating this cake is like an invitation to these wonderful things you want.

Red Envelope

Red envelopes are given especially to children. But adult children also receive them from their parents, grandparents, and older relatives.

The color red is a symbol of prosperity and fortune. And when you receive red envelopes, you use both hands to receive them from the giver, along with a posture of respect and thankfulness. While receiving this gift, say a few words of good wishes and blessings and thank you.

Etiquette for red envelopes

Do not open the red envelope in front of the giver. Wait until they are out of your sight. If you were to reciprocate, you would give an amount similar to or more than what you receive. And make sure the money is clean and crisp. There is often a long line at banks before New Year to get clean bills for the red envelope.

When I was a child, I would pour a cup of tea and offer it to each of my parents when I greet them first thing in the morning on New Year’s Day. They would then give me 2 envelopes. When relatives or friends visit us later in the day, they would also give me red envelopes.

Numbers and red envelopes

If you are giving the red envelopes, be sure the amount does not include the number “4.” The sound of the number 4 is similar to the word “death.” However, the number “8” sounds like “grow, prosper.”

In the 21st century, many are exchanging digital red envelopes. They transfer cash directly to the smartphones of their family members and friends.

I find holidays to be among the best ways to introduce friends to your culture. And it’s also an excellent way to connect with your neighbors. If you feel comfortable, invite them to your celebrations. This gives them an opportunity to understand your culture better. And who wouldn’t want to know more about another culture? The article How to make friends with your neighbors gives more ideas on the topic.

Another blog, Make new friends during the holidays, offers more ideas on how to expand your friendship circle during times when people are feeling especially festive.

Estrella Chan coaches immigrants and international professionals in English fluency, interview skills, and public speaking.    To schedule a session with her, please email support@englisharoundtheworld.com

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