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Chinese New Year Customs and Traditions

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The New Chinese year of the Water Dragon begins on Monday 23rd January 2012. This will be a better year for those born under Monkey, Rat and Dragon signs, as well as plans coming to fruition for those under the Ox influence. Conversely, those born under the auspices of Tiger, Horse and Snake and particularly those with a Dog in their horoscopes will see major changes in their lives. If you are not sure which signs you have, (we each have four animials) then please accept a New Years gift from the FSI in the form of free horoscope Just click here to begin.

Lion Dance The Lion Dance

The Lion Dance is the most spectacular event of the Chinese New Year festivities. The role of the lion is in dispelling evil and bringing good luck and is why the dance is accompanied by firecrackers and loud music played on large drums, gongs and cymbals - evil being afraid of loud noise.

Lion Dances are performed by skilled performers, normally from a martial arts school or acrobatic company. One operates the head and makes the lion look realistic by moving the eyelids, mouth and ears and a second dancer is at the tail of the lion.

The dramatic climax of the Lion Dance is the Choi Cheng or 'Picking the Green'. Vegetable leaves are tied to a piece of string which also has a red packet attached containing money. The string is hung above the doorway of the house or business and the Lion 'eats' both leaves and red packet. The leaves are 'chewed' whilst lying on the ground and the musicians play a dramatic rolling crescendo. Then, the lion dramatically explodes back into activity while spitting out the leaves. This is a symbolic act of blessing by the lion, with the spitting out of the leaves signifying that there will be an abundance of everything in the coming year.

Lion Dances take place throughout the first few days of the Chinese New Year and if your home or business is fortunate enough to be visited by a performance, the Lion is said to bring good luck for the rest of the year.

Red Packets

Red PacketsThe Chinese give money inside red envelopes. Small gifts are given when visiting a home of a friend and increasingly for weddings, but traditionally money is given. The envelopes are decorated with lucky symbols or Chinese characters and known as 'Lai Si' or 'Hong Bao'. Red is the most auspicious colour, while the decoration may have a blessing or good wish.
At Chinese New Year, red packets are given by married couples to children and unmarried people. The symbolic giving of the money represents a wish for fortune and wealth in the coming year. The money may also be used to pay off debt, allowing a financial clean slate in the New Year.

Door Gods

Door GodsDoor Gods are placed on the outside doors of houses during the build up to Chinese New Year. This is an ancient tradition dating back to the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 AD). The Emperor Taizong is said to have fallen ill and dreamt one night that ghosts came to the palace in search for him. He recounted his dream to his officials the next day and the story quickly spread through the Imperial Court. Concerned, the emperors top two generals, Qin Qiong and Yuchi Gong, both of whom had fought to establish the Tang dynasty, then stood guard outside the emperor's bedroom door. The emperor had no further dreams of the ghosts, but after a few nights, the emperor's concern turned towards his loyal generals. He ordered that two paintings be made, one of each general and that they be hung on the door to his room. He then relieved the generals of their posts. The tale soon spread and eager to share the protection of these "Door Gods" the common people made their own paintings and placed them on their doors. The tradition has continued to this day.

Welcoming the New Year and Expelling the Old

The entire house should be cleaned before New Year's Day and on New Year's Eve, brooms, brushes, dusters, dust pans and all other cleaning equipment are put away. Sweeping or dusting should not be done on New Year's Day for fear that good fortune will be swept away. On the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, every door in the house and every window should be opened to allow the old year to go out. The following day, dust and rubbish are swept to the middle of the room, then left in the corners and not taken or thrown out. At no time should the rubbish in the corners be trampled upon. Sweeping the dust and dirt out of your house by the front entrance is to sweep away the good fortune of the family and so it must always be swept inwards and then carried out. All dirt and rubbish must be taken out the back door on the fifth day.

Fifteen Days of Celebration

LanternsThe first day of the Lunar New Year is 'the welcoming of the gods of the heavens and earth'. Many people abstain from eating meat on the first day of the New Year, as it is believed that this will ensure long and happy lives. On the second day, the Chinese pray to their ancestors and the gods. They are extra kind to dogs and ensure that they are well fed, as it is believed that the second day is the birthday of all dogs. On the third and fourth days, the sons-in-laws pay respect to their parents-in-law.
The fifth day is called Po Woo and on this day people stay at home to welcome the God of Wealth. You must not visit your family or friends on the fifth day, as it will bring both parties bad luck. Between the sixth and the tenth day, the Chinese visit their relatives and friends. They also visit the temples to pray for good fortune and health. On the seventh day of the New Year, farmers display their produce and make a drink from seven types of vegetables to celebrate the occasion. The seventh day is also considered the birthday of humans. Noodles are eaten to promote longevity and raw fish for success. On the eighth day, they have another family reunion dinner and at midnight, they pray to Tian Gong, the God of Heaven. The ninth day is to make offerings to the Jade Emperor. The tenth day through to the twelfth, are days that friends and relatives should be invited for dinner. After so much rich food, the thirteenth day should simply be rice congee and mustard greens (choi sum) to cleanse the system. On the fourteenth day, preparations are made to celebrate the Lantern Festival, which is held on the 15th night.


Flowers hold a special significance at Chinese New Year and the Chinese language's endless opportunities for puns and play on words are demonstrated in the flowers that are used. As with almost all activities at Chinese New Year, there is enormous symbolism in the use of flowers. Here are three of the most important.


Prior to New Year's Day, Chinese families decorate their living rooms with vases of pretty blossoms. Blossoms are particularly auspicious flowers, the peach blossom being the most auspicious of all. Arriving in spring, they symbolise life, growth and prosperity. The peach is important in Chinese culture and is a symbol of long life. It is regarded as the strongest defence against evil. Sprays of peach blossom were at one time placed above front doors to prevent even the strongest evil spirit from getting into the house. If your peach blossom blooms during the New Year celebrations, it is sign that the year ahead will be one of good fortune.


This is a play on words. In Chinese the kumquat is called Gam Gat Sue. The word Gam rhymes with the Chinese word for gold and the word Gat rhymes with the Chinese word for luck. The tiny green leaves of this plant symbolise wealth as the word Lu (green) rhymes with the Chinese word for wealth. Finally, the shape of the small orange is a symbol of unity and perfection.


The peony is called the 'Flower of Riches and Honour' in Chinese and is the emblem of love and affection, as well as being a symbol for feminine beauty. The bright red peony is particularly auspicious, bringing with it luck and good fortune.


Etiquette dictates that you must bring a bag of oranges and tangerines and enclose a lai see (red packet) when visiting family or friends at anytime during the two-week long Chinese New Year celebration. Tangerines with leaves intact ensure that one's relationship with the other remains secure. For newlyweds, this represents the branching of the couple into a family with many children. Oranges and tangerines are symbols for abundant happiness.


A candy tray with eight varieties of dried sweet fruit is arranged in either a circle or octagon and called 'The Tray of Togetherness'. There is a dazzling array of candy to start the New Year sweetly and after taking several pieces of candy from the tray, adults place a red envelope on the middle of the tray. Each item represents some kind of good fortune. Candied melon for growth and good health.

Red melon seed is dyed red to symbolise joy, happiness, truth and sincerity. Lychee nut for strong family relationships. Kumquat for prosperity as it has a gold colour. Coconut for togetherness. Peanuts for a long life. Longnan to be blessed with many good sons. Lotus seed to be blessed with many children.

By Alison Skelton RCFSI