How-To: Chinese New Year

IT’S THE YEAR OF THE PIGGGGG!!! I’m very excited about this because it’s my zodiac and while some people believe that it’s bad luck, in my family we are choosing to celebrate as a big birthday because it’s literally every 12 years that you get to celebrate your zodiac lol. It’s also a special year because it’s my dad’s 60th! He’s also a pig, which for those of you who know us, the fact that my dad and I are born in the same zodiac year considering our similarities.

First, some general facts: 

Chinese New Year is actually called Lunar New Year… but the customs and traditions that I celebrate are mostly Chinese/Singaporean centric, so I do just refer to it as Chinese New Year because my family is Chinese and I do celebrate Jan 1st New Years as well.. but I don’t call that Western New Years lol.

There is a grand debate of what to call CNY amongst millennial Asians… *call it whatever you want*. The reasoning is that theoretically these are all the “same” celebrations. But they actually aren’t, they are based on separate lunar calendars where on occasion the days will line up (think Orthodox Easter vs. Catholic/Protestant/Lutheran Easter) but sometimes they won’t. There are also very different customs based on where you are, and depending on if you are in Asia (you’ll likely call it the Spring Festival or something similar) or not will alter what it’s called. SO, if you are going to a Vietnamese gathering for Tet, obviously don’t call it CNY. If you are going to a Chinese don’t call it Tet. Very simple to just adjust your salutation. Also simple wishing everyone a HAPPY NEW YEAR, just like you do on Jan 1st will suffice perfectly.

But again, I am writing this based off of MY experiences being half Singaporean-Chinese so these will be general guidelines to help you through the celebration.

CNY is not on the same day every year. Fun facts, it’s usually around my birthday so every once in a while it falls on my birthday!

People born in 2019, 2002, 1995, 1983, 1971, 1959, 1947, 1935, 1923 and 1911 are year of the pig.

The next year of the pig is 2031.

Things to Bring: 

A big basket of oranges – You really want to make sure you are bringing 12, 18, or 22 Oranges. These are lucky numbers and most Chinese are verryyy superstitious about these numbers around the new year.

Red Packets (Hong Bao (mando) /Lai See (canto) /Ang Bao (hokkien)) – These are given by married persons to unmarried people. Usually from adults to children… HOWEVER, if you are in at that age where some of your friends are married and some are not technically this rule still applies but like most people just forgo it. It is still always nice to bring a few red packets (even if you are single) when you are going to an event with young children. Red packets are filled with money. The amount of money is totally up to you, but do keep in mind that the numbers should only be lucky numbers! I’ll have a list of lucky numbers and their meanings beloooowwww

*Do not forget to present your gifts with two hands*

Lucky Numbers: 

2 – “Good Things Come in Pairs”, “easy”. You will likely find 2 paired with the number 8 for 28 “easy prosper

6 – “Slick” or “smooth”

8 – “To Prosper”

These numbers combined with zeros, ones, or each other are all considered lucky. You will find that many will choose phone numbers, license plates etc. with many eights and sixes.

What to Wear: 

It is best to avoid wearing white as white is a mourning colour. It is easiest to stick to wearing a bright red top or a red skirt etc.

Red and Gold are lucky colours so you will find that everyone is wearing at least something in one of those colours.

We have a belief (thanks Erin for reminding me of this one), that you are supposed to wear new shoes for CNY. Which means “YOU GET A NEW PAIR OF SHOES, AND YOU GET A NEW PAIR OF SHOES, EVERYBODY GETS NEW SHOES”. Yes I’m suuppppeeerrr excited about this, because I’m using it every year from here on out. If you do buy new shoes prior to CNY, it’s best practice to not buy shoes for the first few weeks after CNY. Not super clear on why that is, but I would suggest just following it to ensure good luck!

I would also stay away from anything motif-ed, there are a number of lucky and unlucky symbols and always just to be safe I’d opt to avoid things instead of wearing something that is unlucky.

Traditions You May Encounter:

In my family, we do something called “Lo Hei” it’s other names are “Yee Sang” “Prosperity Toss” etc. It is a cantonese fish salad that is tossed high up into the air using chopsticks, with each ingredient and each toss symbolizing something. The tradition originated in Singapore and Malaysia amongst the Cantonese populations living there (aka. my fam jam). If you find yourself at a dinner where Lo Hei is going to happen, do not be afraid to participate. It is incredibly good luck and the more you participate the more luck you will have!

You may find yourself at a Dragon Dance! In my area of Toronto, Dragon Dances happen all throughout the two weeks of CNY at DIM SUM! Do not be alarmed at the loud drums or the very cute dragon head making it’s way around. The Dragon Dance is to ward off evil spirits and clear the way for the new year! It is lucky to present the dragon with a red packet and also to have a lettuce head on your table for the dragon to eat. If you are bringing young children, do be warned that this is a very loud and potential hour long dance, so take the necessary precautions to protect their ears.

A general feature of Chinese new year is HUGE family gatherings, with lots and lots and lots of food.


xoxo Steph

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