Ways to Celebrate Chinese New Year and Why You Need to Buy Red Underwear

We may have kicked off 2015 in January, but for those who follow the lunar calendar, the New Year festivities are just about to begin. Lion dances, red envelopes of cash and a big feast are a few highlights of the New Year celebrations, but the occasion is also rich in rituals that can stretch a week-long event into a month. It’s a time to clean every inch of the house, get a new haircut and buy red underwear – yes you read it, it’s time to buy red underwear!

Out with the old, in with the new

The new year is full of promise for a fresh beginning, so it’s fitting to throw out your old clothing, furniture and shoes. ‘Spring cleaning’ may be popular in Western Culture but it’s tradition to start the Chinese New Year with a clean slate – literally. That means cleaning every inch of the home before the new year, to rid your home from bad luck and make room for any blessings they you may receive during Chinese New Year.

Time to clean out the closet and get a new haircut

Tip: Time your house cleaning accordingly and make sure you do this before Chinese New Year. It’s bad luck to clean during the new year as you risk interfering with any ‘gifts’ you may receive during Chinese New Year. Want to rock a new haircut? It’s lucky to get a new hair style before the new year.

Eat your way to good fortune 

In Chinese culture, certain dishes are ordered for good luck, especially during ‘reunion dinner’; a feast that takes place on the eve of Chinese New Year.This is no ordinary family meal. Each dish has a symbolic meaning to bring fortune into a new year. A must have at the dinner table is fish as the word ‘yu’ represents good fortune and sounds like the word prosperity. Dumplings are also ordered as its appearance resembles silver ingot – ancient Chinese coins

A dish that symbolises wealth and prosperity is a must have at the dinner table.

Most restaurants will have set menus for your group but if you prefer to order a la carte, opt for chicken and hold the duck. A duck’s mouth symbolises sadness where a roast chicken means strong and strength.

A time to cash in?

It’s believed that red envelopes filled with lucky money will keep children safe from bad spirits. They are typically given to children by married couples after reunion dinner and during family visits (bai nian). On the first day of the lunar New Year, children go to ‘Bai nian’ dressed in their new clothes to wish their elders ‘good health’ and ‘long life’. In exchange, they are given red envelopes as a new year gift.

Get into the spirit of giving, especially if you are married. Source via Flickr: Mike

If you are in the spirit of giving, it is appropriate to give red envelopes to family, your friends’ children, employees (companies like Cathy Pacific give red envelopes to their employees during Chinese New Year) and people you interact with on a day-to-day basis.

The etiquette of red envelopes can be tricky to navigate. Here are some helpful notes:

  • It’s custom to give envelopes filled with bills, not coins (new bills are preferred)
  • Red envelopes should come in pairs if you are married i.e. if you wanted to give $20, you’d put one $10 note in each envelope
  • How much you give depends on how well you know the receiver
  • If you have children, place a red envelope under their pillow before Chinese New Year for good luck.

Buy red to get lucky

The new year is a time to buy new red underwear but it’s not what you think. Red is an especially lucky colour in Chinese culture and represents the spirit of China. It’s also meant to ward off bad luck and misfortune. If you happen to be in China during Chinese New Year, you’ll find market stalls selling red underwear by the truckload.

Useful Phrases

  • Xīnnián kuàilè! (zeen neean kwai luh) – Happy New Year
  • Lóng mǎ jīngshén (long ma jing shen) – The spirit of the dragon and horse (for good health)
  • Gōng xǐ fā cái (gong shee fah tsy) –  Congratulations and wish you a prosperous year.

Best Places to Ring in Chinese New Year

2015 is the Year of the Sheep. As the most creative sign in the Chinese zodiac, you can expect to find a celebration of the new year through the arts.


The Lanterns of the Terracotta Warriors

From 13 February-22 February, Sydney will see the China terracotta warriors light up in larger than life size (about 2.1 metre high) coloured lanterns, situated against the beautiful backdrop of the Sydney Harbour.

The Lanterns of the Terracotta Warriors were created by Chinese artist Xia Nan for the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008. They’ll be arriving in Australia for the first time to showcase the collection’s vibrant colours and meticulous detail.

Fun fact: China’s terracotta warriors were originally built for a king who wanted to take an army with him into his afterlife. They sat unearthed for 2000 years until their discovery in 1974. The Terracotta Warriors are a world renowned representation of Chinese history.

Watch the Chinese Terracotta Warriors Light Up Against the Sydney Harbour. Source


The Lanterns of the Terracotta Warriors

Fri 13 – Sun 22 Feb 2015 – Lights turn on at dusk til Midnight

Dawes Point

Hickson Road Reserve, Dawes Point

Price: Free

More info



The Chinese New Year Fair

An event suited for the whole family, the festival welcomes more than 60,000 people per year and hosts over 100 stalls offering traditional Chinese fare, arts and crafts and services. Enjoy a feast to the sound of traditional drumming and theatrical lion dances. Children will enjoy games, rides, water slides and performances.

The lion costumes are elaborate and heavy, requiring two people to operate them. Source

The Chinese New Year Fair

Sun 22nd Feb 2015 – 12pm-9pm

James Street and Chinatown, Northbridge

Price: Free

More info


Chinese New Year will be a two week celebration in Melbourne with the festivities kicking off on New Year’s Eve. You may not be able to partake in all the festivities, but if you had to choose one, visit the Hawker Style Market where you’ll be spoilt for choice with a variety of Asian cuisine, New Year Cake and the hustle and bustle of people celebrating the Year of the Sheep.

The 15 metre dragon is an Instagram worthy shot. Source

If you have time to spare, visit the Chinese New Year Festival at Queen Victoria Market to experience traditional Chinese lion and dragon dances, snap an Instagram shot of the 15 metre dragon and buy a few lucky charms from market stalls.

More info on events in Melbourne

Share what you’ll be getting upto on Chinese New Year! Any unusual customs we missed?

Feature Image: Sourced via Flickr

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