Monday Postcard #15 – Happy Chinese New Year
As I aim to give you insights into my life between Europe and Asia, I have to introduce all those of you who have not heard about it to Chinese New Year. I guess that a lot of you will also have friends and/or business partners from Asia. So I hope this post will come in handy for you.
What is celebrated?
While the “normal” New Year is celebrated in countries like China as well, the main holiday is the Chinese New Year according to the Chinese Calendar, also called Lunar New Year or Spring Festival. It celebrates the start of a new year under the topic of the year’s zodiac sign (there are 12 in total). 2018 will be the Year of the Dog. Depending on the year, there are also wood, fire, earth, metal and water influencing the meaning of the zodiac sign. Therefore, this year, it is the year of the Earth Dog. This year is considered to be a more peaceful year than the past Year of the Rooster.
My first Chinese New Year in 2007 was very special because it was the year of the Golden Pig. For Chinese, the meaning of the zodiac is very important – it influences, for example, business decisions, family planning or the choice of the partner. Tiger and dragon years are extremely popular for having babies as they are considered the two best signs. Also, certain zodiac signs match with each other, while others do not. Hence, you need to choose your partner wisely – I am a tiger, a strong sign, which matches well with weaker signs such as the rabbit. Tigers and monkeys do not go together, for example. 😉
Which countries celebrate it?
As the name suggests, it is a Chinese festival. However, other countries like Korea and Japan also celebrate it. Of course, in the big overseas communities in the US, Australia and Europe, you will see Chinatown decorated and celebrating as well.
When is it celebrated?
There is no fixed date like for Christmas, it depends on the moon. The main day is on the first day of the new moon of the year. It is actually at the same time as carnival / Mardi Gras. Similar to Christmas, it stretches across multiple days.
Is it a big thing?
YES, it is!!! Even if we rarely hear about it in the West, it is a big festival. It is actually as big as Christmas. (By the way, Christmas is NOT celebrated around the world, if you have not heard about that 😉 ).
What do people do?
It really depends on the family and the region. My very first Chinese New Year was in 2007. I was travelling with a friend before we started our exchange semester in China and we were invited to spend the New Year days with a Chinese family in Jiangxi province (about two hours from Shanghai). On the evening of Chinese New Year, we had a big feast with jiaozi (dumplings) which we made ourselves. As they are quite a lot of work to prepare, they are most of the time only made on special occasions. We then watched the Chinese New Year show on National TV and spent time with the family. And this is basically what it is all about – to spend time with your loved ones. And eat – A LOT! It was a very special experience to spend those days with our friend’s family. I really appreciated that they included us into their intimate family celebrations. Furthermore, fireworks are very important. The big cities have official ones – it is forbidden to have your own. But what you will hear everywhere, are the fireworks looking like snakes which explode on the ground. Before the family starts the Chinese New Year dinner, this firework will be lit.
When I lived in Shanghai, I realized that during this time of the year the city is empty and all the shops are closed. A lot of Chinese live far away from their families in the coastal cities in the East and this is the only time of the year they manage to go on this long journey home. A lot of people try to take three weeks off, to go home and see their families. I stocked up on groceries for about four days. It is crazy that even in a consumer-driven city such as Shanghai, these days make the city look like a ghost town in the residential areas.
However, “empty” is a relative term for cities like Shanghai or Beijing. As it is the major travel time of the year, there are thousands of tourists from all over the country who travel to visit the main cities. The international hotels and bars and clubs are busy, of course.
In Hong Kong, it was similar to Shanghai, but more shops were open. I think it was due to the fact that a lot of Mainland Chinese use these days for a shopping trip to Hong Kong. In Singapore, it was similar to Hong Kong, actually. You will also notice a surge in Asian tourists overseas. A lot of business-oriented countries such as Dubai or Thailand decorate the malls to lure travellers into spending the holidays there.
Are there presents?
Yes, but not in the sense as we give presents at Christmas. Instead of buying things, the children get “Hong-Bao”, red envelopes with money. The notes are in consecutive numbers. Furthermore, presents depends on the country. In Singapore, it is important to bring oranges as a present if you are invited to somebody’s hows.
What about the dress code?
Depending on where you celebrate it, it ranges from casual to fancy. The one “must” is to wear something in red, the lucky colour.
Shall I congratulate and how?
Yes. As I mentioned above, this festival is as important as Christmas. Therefore, take the time to send some nice emails. The saying in Mainland China, Singapore and Taiwan is xin nian kuai le, in Hong Kong gong hei fat choy. In English it is perfectly fine to wish a Happy New Year (of the Dog).
I am sure that your friends, business partners and colleagues in the East will really appreciate such a message.
Xin Nian Kuai Le!!! Happy New Year of the Dog!