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An introduction to Chinese New Year

13 January 2017

By Jie Li, China Marketing Executive, Christchurch & Canterbury Tourism

Nihao (Hello, pronounced as Nee How in English)! Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is the most important traditional Chinese holiday and it's just around the corner. The date varies from year to year on the Gregorian calendar, and in 2017 it falls on 28 January, in 2018 on 16 February.

Where and when is Chinese New Year celebrated?

Chinese New Year is celebrated in regions with significant Chinese populations, including Chinese Mainland, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and some cities in the US, and has also had great influence on the lunar New Year celebrations of China's geographic neighbours like North and South Koreas, and Vietnam. But keep in mind that Koreans and Vietnamese may not feel happy if it's called Chinese New Year.

In Chinese Mainland, a week-long holiday is observed from 27 January to 2 February 2017, which will witness the largest population migration in the world. People living and working afar will go back home and families will gather for their annual reunion dinner, when fish and dumplings are usually served as they symbolise surplus and wealth.

Chinese New Year and overseas travel

An important new trend is the increasing number of Chinese who see overseas travel as a fashionable way to celebrate the holiday and travel either as a family or as several families in a group. As 2017 will be the Year of Rooster/Hen/Chicken, decorations, gifts and toys like chicken, rooster or hen will definitely be popular among Chinese tourists. Most of Chinese will travel during the week-long holiday or one week before or after the holiday.

Rooster is regarded as a lucky bird as it pronounced exactly the same as the word "auspiciousness" in Mandarin, both of which are Ji (quite similar to the pronunciation of jee in English). Please remember while it is the Year of Rooster/Chicken/Hen, Chinese people still consume chicken as a popular meat, for example the Kung Pao Chicken dish. 

Symbols and traditions associated with Chinese New Year

Red is the lucky colour for Chinese New Year celebrations. A red diamond-shaped Fu (福) is usually displayed on the entrance of Chinese homes, symbolising the arrival of good luck and prosperity.

Red envelopes containing money are usually given to young children from parents and the elderly. Clothing featuring red is commonly worn throughout the holiday as it's believed red can scare away evil spirits.

If you have a red Chinese knot (red Chinese knots and other Chinese New Year decorations can be bought in Chinese supermarkets in Church Corner Christchurch), it's good to hang it on the door or at the reception desk.

How to say "Happy New Year" in Chinese

The Chinese New Year is often accompanied by cheerful and enthusiastic greetings like Xin Nian Hao (新年好, pronounced as Shin Nian How in English, literally meaning New Year Good), or Gong Xi Fa Cai (恭喜发财, pronounced as Gung She Far Tsai in English, which loosely translates to "congratulations and be prosperous").

Chinese tourists will pleasantly surprised if a foreigner greets them using their own language. But if you are not confident in pronouncing these greetings, a "Happy New Year" throughout the holiday will also do wonders.

Xiexie (Thanks, pronounced as shay shay)!