Chinese New Year traditions
In preparation for the new year, the Chinese will clean their homes and put up red decorations and lanterns.
The celebrations will then officially kick off with a New Year’s Eve family dinner, with fish and dumplings being served to encourage prosperity.
Shou Sui, which translates as “after the New Year’s Eve dinner”, follows the traditional feast, where families stay awake throughout the night and gather for fireworks at midnight to banish evil.
Adults typically give children red packets containing money at Chinese New Year, to help them avoid the evil and wish them good health.
Chinese New Year’s Day taboos
There are many superstitions surrounding Chinese New Year. These are to be avoided on the first day of the festival:
- Medicine: Taking medicine on the first day of the lunar year means one will get ill for a whole year.
- Porridge: It is considered that only poor people have porridge for breakfast – and people don’t want to start the year “poor”.
- Laundry: People do not wash clothes on the first and second day because these two days are celebrated as the birthday of Shuishen (水神, the Water God).
- Washing hair: Hair must not be washed on the first day of the lunar year. In the Chinese language, hair (发) has the same pronunciation and character as ‘fa’ in facai (发财), which means ‘to become wealthy’. Therefore, it is seen as not a good thing to “wash one’s fortune away” at the beginning of the New Year.
- Sharp objects: The use of knives and scissors is to be avoided as any accident is thought to lead to inauspicious things and the depletion of wealth.
- Going out: A woman may not leave her house otherwise she will be plagued with bad luck for the entire coming year. A married daughter is not allowed to visit the house of her parents as this is believed to bring bad luck to the parents, causing economic hardship for the family.
- The broom: If you sweep on this day then your wealth will be swept away too.
- Crying children: The cry of a child is believed to bring bad luck to the family so parents do their best to keep children as happy as possible.
- Theft: Having your pocket picked is believed to portend your entire wealth in the coming year being stolen.
- Debt: Money should not be lent on New Year’s Day and all debts have to be paid by New Year’s Eve. If someone owes you money, do not go to their home to demand it. Anyone who does so will be unlucky all year.
- An empty rice jar: A depleted receptacle may cause grave anxiety as the cessation of cooking during the New Year period is considered to be an ill omen.
- Damaged clothes: Wearing threadbare garments can cause more bad luck for the year.
- Killing things: Blood is considered an ill omen, which will cause misfortunes such as a knife wound or a bloody disaster.
- Monochrome fashion: White or black clothes are barred as these two colours are traditionally associated with mourning.
- Giving of certain gifts: Clocks, scissors, and pears all have a bad meaning in Chinese culture.
How Chinese New Year is celebrated in the UK
Each year, the biggest celebrations outside Asia traditionally takes place in London, with thousands of people marking Chinese New Year across the capital.
Colourful floats usually pass through the streets of the West End and Chinatown along with dragon and lion dances, as part of the vibrant Chinese New Year parade.
In the past, London residents and tourists have been able to enjoy family-friendly entertainment in Leicester Square, cultural activities and traditional cuisine in Chinatown and live performances in Trafalgar Square.
This year, celebrations may be more muted this year in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In Manchester this year, although it will not be hosting a Dragon Parade, the city centre will be home to a giant tiger art installation, stunning red lanterns, pop-up food stalls and live performers.
Chinese New Year recipes
Essential spices and sauces to upgrade your Chinese cooking
From which vinegar to use to the ideal noodles and fried parcel wrappers, Kei Lum Chan and Diora Fong Chan discuss the best ingredients, spices and sauces to help create the most authentic tastes and textures.
Fuchsia Dunlop’s Shanghai stir-fried chunky noodles
This Shanghainese dish is made with thick, bouncy noodles like fresh Japanese udon, which are given a dark caramel tint by soy sauce and freshened up with barely cooked greens.