Chinese New Year Activities

Before New Year's

Because Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, is one of the biggest holiday celebrations for many people in the world, preparation is key. For one, meticulous outfits and maintenance of personal appearance or hygiene is important. There's nothing worse than showing up to a large family gathering on Chinese New Year to have them comment on wrinkly shirt stains or unruly hair. As a result, people generally like to buy new shoes, clothes, and accessories to wear for the holiday. Men tend to wear neatly pressed shirts and pants made of fine materials, while women tend to wear fine woven dresses in bright red and gold. Also, a fresh haircut is ideal; women like to have their hair in intricate, pretty braids or decorated with hair accessories.

On top of tending to their personal appearance, people also tend to the appearance of their homes. Spring cleaning is commonly done in preparation of Chinese New Year, and generally includes sweeping and mopping floors, leaving them in pristine condition, as well as dusting tabletops and drawers. Unnecessary clutter, broken items, and dead plants are removed. Also, it is the norm to dress the house up in specific Chinese New Year decorations, such as paintings, house plants, and various red adornments. These decorations tend to be in bright red and gold, the color typically associated with Chinese New Year. Feng Shui, which literally translates to "wind-water," is a commonly held Chinese belief that harmonizing the surrounding environment in certain ways can bring about mystical benefits. In preparation for the Lunar New Year, home furniture, decorations, or layouts are often rearranged in order to promote Feng Shui.

Shopping as preparation is also common. Whether it's for food to cook during the holiday, clothes to wear, or the red envelopes traditionally used to pass out money.

New Year's Eve

Chinese New Year's Eve usually starts with ancestor worship. Although deceased, ancestors are believed to continue their existence in some form in order to look after the family and influence the living world in mystical ways. Joss sticks, or incense candles, are used in prayer to communicate and send greetings to the deceased and to gods.

Ancestor worship is usually followed by an important family dinner. This important family dinner is similar to Thanksgiving in the U.S. in a lot of ways. For this meal, foods with symbolic meaning are served, usually in abundant amounts. Refer to the food section for more information.

Shou Sui is an activity that involves family members staying awake together during the transition from year to year during midnight. The belief is that staying awake increases the longevity of aging family members. In the past, Shou Sui was traditionally practiced huddled around the stove, but in modern times, takes place while watching the Chinese New Year Party on CCTV (China Central Television).


Fireworks always take place at midnight to welcome in the new year. Legend tells of a monster "Year" 2,000 years ago that terrorized people whose only saving grace were brightly lit fires used to chase "Year" away. Traditionally, this came in the form of bamboo thrown into bonfires. After the invention of gunpowder, firecrackers replaced bamboo, and lighting firecrackers came to symbolize the warding off of evil spirits.

First Day of the New Year

During the first day of the first lunar month, most people begin the act of visiting and greeting families and friends in their homes to offer good wishes; this is called Bai Nian. Traditionally, younger people visit older relatives and friends, while married couples tend to visit the husband's family. This activity promotes ripe opportunities to pass out the money-filled red envelopes, called Hong Bao. Not only red envelopes are traded though; people like to pass out food, wine, and other assorted gifts.

The Following Days

During the following days, celebrations continue. Lion dances and performing troupes are commonly seen in public places in some part of China. Other possible sights include operas and dragon dances, which are similar to lion dances but with distinct dragon costumes instead. Unlike the first day, married couples often visit the wife's family the second day.

Bai Nian continues. In Chinese culture, close relatives and the elderly are typically afforded more respect, and as such are visited on the first day of the new year. More distant family members and friends are greeted from then on up until the fifteenth day, which is the official end of the holiday.

Fifteenth Day

The fifteenth day is when the Yuan Xiao festival, also called the Lantern festival, takes place. The day also coincides with the first full moon of the new lunar year. During the night, congregations of flying, lit, paper lanterns are commonly seen in public places at lantern fairs, which are usually held at temples. Traditionally, riddles can be written on lanterns for passersby to decipher out of amusement. Yuan Xiao (alternatively known as tangyuan) is also the name of a food eaten on this day, which is a rice ball with assorted fillings inside such as fruit preserves, sweet sesame, red beans, or peanuts. The fifteen day marks the conclusion of the New Year celebrations.

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