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

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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.

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.

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.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.

Share what you'll be getting up to on Chinese New Year! Any unusual customs we missed?

Feature Image: Sourced via Flickr