Celebratory customs of Chinese New Year

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Unlike New Year here in the United Kingdom, Chinese New Year doesn’t have a fixed date. Instead, it’s determined by the new moon that appears between 21 January and 21 February. Also known as the Spring Festival, in China the public holiday is the biggest celebration of the year. People greet each other with a hearty ‘Xin Nian Kuai Le’ (‘Happy New Year’).

China is a huge country and New Year customs vary by region. Here are some we’ve read about:

Chinese New Year is a time when families get together to celebrate and they gather for reunion dinners on New Year's Eve.

Houses are cleaned from top to bottom; the aim is to sweep out any bad luck from the old year and clear the way for good luck.

Doors are decorated with narrow red paper strips called couplets which symbolise good fortune, happiness, wealth and longevity.

The ancient Chinese invented gunpowder. It was called ‘smoke flower’ because it was originally used during the Spring Festival and is still integral to the celebrations. At midnight fireworks are lit to herald the arrival of the New Year. It’s also common to let off firecrackers to ward off evil spirits.

A popular food is ‘jiaozi’ – dumplings boiled in water. The dumplings contain different fillings and symbolise wealth as they resemble the ancient shape of gold bars.

At New Year, it’s traditional to visit family and friends. The younger generation celebrates with the elders, wishing them good health and longevity. In return elders present red bags to the younger generation, wishing them smooth progress in the year ahead.

Dragon and lion dances are common during Chinese New Year and it is thought that the colourful masks and beat of the drums scare off bad spirits.

The New Year celebrations last for 15 days until the full moon. On the final day a big celebration called the Lantern Festival takes place and children take to the streets in the evening carrying paper lanterns. Chinese lanterns are usually red for good luck and symbolise the reunion of the family. People also eat rice balls called ‘Tang Yuan’.

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