Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, welcomes the start of a new lunar cycle and is one of the most important holidays in Asia. A lunar year, which consists of 12 full cycles of the moon, takes about 354 days compared to the solar year which takes 365 days.
Every year, about three billion people return to their hometowns for this occasion. It is celebrated not only in China and Hong Kong but wherever there are large Chinese populations, including Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Korea, Vietnam and major cities around the globe such as London, New York and Sydney.
The main event is the family reunion dinner on Chinese New Year’s eve. Visiting the most senior member of the family on the first day is also customary. Festivities during the 15-day-long celebration are noisy and colourful, featuring parades, lion dances and Chinese New Year markets.
However, with travel, social distancing restrictions and bans on public events, celebrations will be taking place either in small family gatherings or virtually.
This year, the first day of Chinese New Year falls on Friday, 12 February and marks the beginning of the year of the Ox. The Chinese zodiac is aligned with an animal each year. The cycle has 12 animals: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. People born in their respective years are thought to share traits associated with their zodiac animal. The Ox represents strength, reliability, fairness and conscientiousness.
There many symbolic rituals putting the past year behind us and signifying the desire for a fresh start. Many of these rituals serve to drive away bad luck from the past year or express hopes for prosperity, wealth and happiness. Here are a few key ways to celebrate.
- Refresh Your Home
Before decorating your house, it is customary to do some spring cleaning. Giving your house a good dusting and scrubbing before the first day of the Lunar New Year is symbolic of washing away the bad luck of the last year. De-cluttering your home is also a great way to set the tone for a fresh start. Be careful not to sweep on the first day or it will sweep away wealth and luck!
- Decorate in Red for Good Fortune
In Chinese culture, red represents prosperity and happiness. It is no wonder that decorations are predominantly in red. Learn to make traditional decorations like red lanterns, paper cuttings and couplets or auspicious words written on red paper.
The Chinese word for good fortune fú (福), for example, is written on a red diamond square paper and pasted upside down, decorating windows and doors. This symbolizes good fortune which is so abundant that it pours out.
- Splurge on New Clothes
It is tradition to don new clothes on New Year’s Day as it celebrates change and fresh beginnings. In the past, most people could only afford news clothes once a year and they would save for this occasion. Red, of course, is the preferred choice of colour. Why not set a red dress code for your virtual parties?
- Share the Festivities on Video Calls
There is no reason not to catch up with family and friends this year. Organize get-togethers with video calls using platforms like Zoom, WhatsApp, FaceTime or others. To create more atmosphere, each party could put up the same virtual backdrop for a united feeling of sharing the ‘same space’. Or you could each show-off your home’s decorations and use those as your background.
- Trade Red Envelopes
Hongbao or red envelopes are given by those who are married and are received by single people as a gesture of good luck. The red envelope is filled with money ranging from a few dollars to significant amounts depending on the relationship to the recipient. This tradition of giving hongbaos has been digitized so take advantage of it especially this year. In 2018, it was estimated that 786 million people used WeChat to send digital hongbaos. Alibaba and Baidu have also come up with a digital red envelope feature.
- Have a Virtual Dumpling-Making Party
A mouth-watering feast is what many look forward to during this holiday season. A popular dish is jiao zi (饺子) as the boat-shaped dumplings resemble Chinese silver ingots symbolizing the wealth to come in the new year. You could organize a dumpling-making session online with family or friends and enjoy them afterwards. If you do not have a family expert on hand, you can find many virtual cooking classes offered online.
- Celebrate with Activities Online
Free virtual activities are hosted on the platform allevents. They range from storytelling sessions and a virtual concert by the Shanghai Quartet to a virtual historical tour of the Forbidden City in Beijing.
The Smithsonian American Art Museum has also a list of performances and workshops for this years’ festivities. The Museum of London too, is hosting exciting Lunar New Year programmes such as a traditional Taiwanese puppetry workshop, an interactive session exploring the traditions behind Lunar New Year, and a film on the symbolism behind the Lion Dance.
- Play Chinese New Year Games
No Chinese New Year holiday is complete without traditional Chinese strategy and gambling games when visiting family and friends. Mah Jong is the most popular and is played with tiles labelled with Chinese characters. It is similar in concept to the western game ‘Rummy’. Others include Chinese Poker played with standard card decks, and Chinese Chess.
Even though it may be less raucous and convivial, these games can still be played online. It will just need a little more coordination and planning.