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Chinese New Year! A look into the widely celebrated traditional holiday in China

By Rebecca Foreman | September 1, 2023

Chinese New Year in 2024 will begin on Saturday, February 10th, according to the lunar calendar. It will mark the transition from the Year of the Water Dragon to the Year of the Wood Snake. The festivities typically last for 15 days, with the Lantern Festival, which concludes the celebrations, taking place on Sunday, February 25th, 2024. The dates of Chinese New Year may vary slightly each year as it is based on the lunar calendar.

Chinese New Year is one of the most significant and widely celebrated traditional holidays in China and among Chinese communities worldwide and is a time for families to come together, honour ancestors, and welcome the arrival of a new year filled with blessings and prosperity.

In addition to its cultural importance, Chinese New Year is not only a time to celebrate and wish for a prosperous year, but it also serves as a reminder of the enduring values and customs that connect individuals to their Chinese heritage. 

Photo: Firework display in Sydney

We spoke to four AMEP students from Navitas Skilled Futures who will be observing Chinese New Year and asked them to provide some insight into the most important celebration for Chinese people around the world.

What is your connection to Navitas Skilled Futures and where are you located?

Jingyi Li: I am an AMEP student of Navitas Skilled Futures living in Canberra.

Zhi Feng: I am a student at  Navitas Skilled Futures learning English and living in Canberra.

Haijin: ‘How’s it going, mate?’ I am Haijun, from China, a student improving my English as directed by my  Navitas Skilled Futures trainer, Hamid Shajari.

Ya Wang: I am Ya from China and I have been a student of  Navitas Skilled Futures in Gungahlin class ACT since August 2022. 

Photo: Dragon puppet decoration celebrating Chinese New Year

Can you provide a brief overview of Chinese New Year – its meaning, what it observes and how it is practised?

Jingyi Li: Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival, is the most important traditional festival in China. The festival is observed to celebrate the arrival of a new year and to bid farewell to the previous year. Preparations for Chinese New Year begin weeks in advance. Families clean their homes thoroughly to sweep away bad luck and make way for good fortune. They also decorate their houses with red lanterns, couplets, and paper cuttings, symbolising luck and happiness.

On New Year’s Eve, families gather for a festive reunion dinner, known as “Nian Ye Fan.” The meal consists of traditional dishes with symbolic meanings, such as fish for abundance and dumplings for wealth. Fireworks and firecrackers are set off at midnight to drive away evil spirits and welcome the new year.

During the festival, red envelopes filled with money, known as “hongbao,” are given to children and unmarried individuals as a gesture of good luck and blessings. Lion and dragon dances, along with colourful parades, are common sights during Chinese New Year celebrations. The lion dance is believed to bring good luck and ward off evil spirits.

Chinese New Year is a time for family bonding, cultural traditions, and expressing good wishes for the upcoming year. It is widely celebrated not only in China but also by Chinese communities around the world, making it a vibrant and cherished festival of Chinese culture.

Photo: Jingyi Li

Zhi Feng: Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, means a lot to Chinese communities around the world. It celebrates the advent of the new year on the Chinese Lunar Calendar. It falls between late January and mid-February each year. Chinese people observe the Chinese New Year in a variety of ways as China is a vast country with rich culture and diversity. Some typical traditions are eating Jiaozi (Chinese dumplings), setting off firecrackers, having family reunions and handing out Hongbao (red envelopes) to children.

Haijun: Chinese New Year normally lasts for 15 days and involves many traditions and customs. The most important event is the Reunion Dinner held on New Year’s Eve where families gather to enjoy a special feast and eat symbolic dishes. Then at midnight, fireworks are set off to scare away ‘evil spirits’ and welcome the new year. Lion and dragon dances are performed in the streets, believed to bring good luck.

During Chinese New Year, red envelopes containing money are given to children and unmarried individuals as a gesture of good wishes and prosperity. Chinese New Year represents a fresh start and the beginning of a new agricultural year. It signifies the end of the dormant winter season and the upcoming planting and growing season. It is a time when farmers prepare their fields and make plans for the cultivation of crops.

Ya Wang: In our class, we once talked about the Chinese Lunar New Year of the Rabbit (2023). Chinese people call it Spring Festival, the most important traditional festival which is full of joy and anticipation for family reunions. Generally, Spring Festival refers to CHUXI (New Year’s Eve) and CHUYI (the first day of the new year) because it is the climax of the period of almost one month. 

Photo: Red Envelope called “hongbao” containing money are given out during Chinese New Year

What does Chinese New Year mean for you personally?

Jingyi Li: For me personally, Chinese New Year has evolved in meaning over the years. During my childhood, it was an opportunity to earn money as it was my only source of income. I would receive red envelopes, or “hongbao,” from relatives and friends, which added up and provided financial support. Then as I grew older, especially after immigrating to Australia, Chinese New Year became more about family reunion. It holds great significance as a time for us to gather and celebrate together. We make an effort to travel back to China during the Chinese New Year period to visit our relatives and spend quality time with them. It has become a cherished tradition to reconnect with our cultural roots, share stories, and create lasting memories with our loved ones.

Overall, Chinese New Year is a blend of nostalgia, cultural pride, and family bonding for me. It reminds me of my childhood experiences and the importance of maintaining strong connections with family, no matter where life takes us.

Zhi Feng: Chinese New Year is the most important festival for me because it means a lot to my culture and identity. It is normally the time for me to reunite and have fun with my family and friends.

Haijun: Firstly, Chinese New Year is a special time for me to cherish and spend quality time with my family. It’s a time for gathering with loved ones and strengthening my bonds with family and friends. Secondly, it’s a chance to embrace and honour my Chinese roots, traditions, and customs. For example, I can engage in cultural activities, practice rituals, and pass down ancestral wisdom, and I can also experience multicultural festivals in Canberra.

Ya Wang: I like the atmosphere of the Spring Festival. 

Photo: Chinese Fortune cookie and red envelope

What traditions do you observe/practice?

Jingyi Li: One of the practices we observe is bowing to our elders. This involves kneeling down and touching our foreheads to the ground, sometimes even making a sound, as a way to show respect to the elderly. However, it’s important to note that this custom is not universally observed throughout the country. It is more commonly seen in northern China, while people in the southern regions may not practise bowing as a tradition.

Zhi Feng: As most Chinese people do, I travel to my hometown to visit my family and enjoy lots of tasty traditional Chinese food.

Photo: Zhi Feng & friends

Haijun: I would usually spend time figuring out how to express my New Year greetings to all my friends. People in China have been accustomed to texting their friends when the New Year comes. In this situation, I need to avoid any repetition of a message that easily makes people think it is a copied and pasted message. 

Ya Wang: During the Spring Festival, the celebration activities are mainly focused on worshipping the gods and Buddhas, paying homage to ancestors, removing the old and bringing in the new, and praying for a good coming year. Chinese people are very family oriented. Family is like a tree growing from generation to generation with more and more branches and deeper roots. These can help you prevent storms and disasters. 

Ya Wang, third from the right, wearing a pink top.

How will you and your family members be recognising Chinese New Year in the coming year?

Jingyi Li: In the coming year, which happens to be the Year of the Dragon, my family and I will be recognising Chinese New Year in various ways. The Year of the Dragon is traditionally considered a significant year because Chinese people refer to themselves as “descendants of the dragon,” and we even have a song called “Descendants of the Dragon.” During the New Year celebrations, we will continue the tradition of gathering together as a family. We will watch the Spring Festival Gala, a grand televised variety show, play mahjong, enjoy delicious food and drinks, and give red envelopes to the children, which are commonly known as “lucky money” or “red packets.”

Zhi Feng: I will stay in Australia during the next Chinese New Year as it is not a public holiday here so I will need to work. However, I will have video chats with my family and friends and send some good wishes to them.

Haijun: The upcoming Chinese Spring Festival will be on February 10, 2024. I will take my child to watch the movie ‘I Am What I Am. Episode 2’. This movie is an animated film produced by a Chinese team. It tells the story of a young boy named Juan who is longing to be a lion dancer. Lion dancing is considered as an auspicious symbol which is performed during the spring festival. Juan received encouragement and inspiration from a stranger and formed his own Lion Team after that, aiming to achieve their goal in a lion dancing competition. The first episode of this movie has been highly recognized in Japan this year and I have high expectations for the coming episode.

Ya Wang: We will be busy getting ready a few days before with a thorough cleaning and grand shopping and the activities last until the fifteenth day of the first month. Family reunion, friends get together, a lot of good things to eat, good wishes from others.

Photo: Dragon dance a popular sight during Chinese New Year

If a colleague wants to wish you well during this time, how should they phrase the greeting?

Jingyi Li: If a colleague wants to wish me well during this time, they can phrase the greeting as follows: “Wishing you great fortune in the Year of the Dragon and a joyful Lunar New Year! May the Year of the Dragon bring you happiness and prosperity!” Additionally, if they mention that it is my zodiac birth year (the Year of the Dragon), it would make me even happier.

There are 12 zodiac birth years in the Chinese zodiac system. The Chinese zodiac follows a 12-year cycle, with each year associated with a specific animal sign. The animal signs include the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. 

Jingyi Li

Zhi Feng: There are some common phrases people can use during Chinese New Year. For example, Xin Nian Kuai Le, which means Happy New Year. Chun Jie Kuai Le which means Happy Chinese New Year and Gong Xi Fa Cai, which means ‘have good fortune’. 

Haijun: I am new in the community and would be extremely happy if you greet me like: ‘May your career be successful’, and ‘May your family be happy’. I would say in return, ‘Wish you prosperity’ and ‘May all your dreams come true’.

Ya Wang: People wish each other “Good health”, “Happy family” and “All the best” during the Spring Festival. So, when you meet others in the coming Chinese New Year, saying these words will bring you good luck! 

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