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How to Celebrate Chinese New Year: 5 Main Traditions and Activities

In the article, “How Chinese People Prepare for The Chinese New Year,” we learned how Chinese people prepare for their biggest festival. In this article, we’ll walk you through the main activities Chinese people do to celebrate Chinese New Year. 

1. Sacrifice to ancestor

Honoring the dead is a Chinese tradition that has been kept for thousands of years. Ancestor worship is a practice based on the concept that the spirits of deceased family members still exist even after they have passed away and have the power to influence the fortunes of the living. If you offer sacrifices to ancestors to help keep them happy in the spiritual world, in return, you will be blessed.

On Chinese New Year’s Eve, crowds of Chinese people visit their ancestors’ graves and give sacrifices to them before the family reunion dinner. Chinese people often place offerings of meat, wine, joss sticks, and joss paper in front of the grave. This shows that younger generations always have respect for their ancestors by letting their ancestors “eat” first. 

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2. Have a family reunion dinner

The Chinese New Year is a time for family to gather together and celebrate. Regardless of how far apart the family members are, they are expected to return home for the most important yearly meeting.

The Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner is also called ‘reunion dinner’ for this reason. Big families of several generations gather together and sit around round tables to enjoy the food and wish everyone a good year coming. 

A hearty home-cooked meal is served, with a variety of dishes which have not only excellent taste but also an attractive presentation and auspicious implications. With Chinese people, everything has its own good and bad luck, and so do dishes. Therefore, dishes that can bring luck and prosperity are always served on this special occasion. Here are three staple dishes for this big day.

Dumplings

Dumplings, or jiǎo zi 饺子 in Chinese, are the most important traditional Chinese New Year course. They are made with flour and stuffed with different fillings. Usually, families will wrap dumplings together in the afternoon of Chinese New Year’s Eve and serve dumplings at the banquet of the family reunion dinner. According to traditional custom, people also eat dumplings on the 1st and the 5th day of the New Year.

Dumplings are a popular dish during the Chinese New Year because they are shaped like ancient silver and gold ingots which represent wealth. People say that the more dumplings you eat during New Year’s, the more money you will make the following year. 

Dumplings can either be savory or sweet. Savory dumplings, which are often made of pork and shrimp and later deep-fried, are served as a main dish. On the other hand, people also wrap coins, candies, or peanuts in dumplings to make a side dish or dessert. This is because coins, candies, and peanuts express different blessings, for example, a coin for wealth, candy for sweet life, and peanuts for health and longevity.

Fish

In Chinese culture, a thing with auspicious implications is based on either its outlook or its identical spelling to another word or object that carries a good meaning. In Chinese, yú (fish) is pronounced similar to yú (abundant), so fish symbolizes abundance. As a result, Chinese people believe if they eat fish during Chinese New Year time, they’ll have a great year ahead in the coming year. 

Glutinous rice balls

Another staple dish during the Chinese New Year Festival is glutinous rice balls. The glutinous rice ball, 汤圆 tāngyuán, is a traditional food for the Chinese New Year and made of sticky rice flour stuffed with different sweet fillings. In North China, people only eat glutinous rice balls at the Lantern Festival (the 15th day of the first lunar month, two weeks after Chinese New Year). But Southern Chinese people eat them throughout the Chinese New Year holiday. 

The round shape of rice balls symbolizes reunion, harmony, and happiness. Each bowl of this dessert consists of a couple of rice balls which exemplify members of the family. That explains why they are favored by the Chinese during the New Year celebrations.

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3. Watch CCTV Gala

The CCTV New Year’s Gala, also known as the Spring Festival Gala (春晚 Chūnwǎn in Chinese), is a Chinese New Year special program. It is recognized as the world’s most-watched television program by Guinness World Records. 

Every year on the eve of Chinese New Year, the Gala is broadcasted on its flagship CCTV-1. The show includes a variety of entertainment such as cross-talk, acrobatics, songs, and drama performances. The CCTV’s Gala has been the mainstay of many Chinese families, including overseas Chinese since it was first broadcast on the network in 1983. 

Chinese families often gather around and spend more than 4 hours together to watch the Gala from 20:00 to the countdown at midnight. At around 0:30, the ending theme song “Can’t Forget Tonight” is played to mark the end of the Gala. 

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4. Set up firecrackers and fireworks

One of the most important customs to celebrate the Chinese New Year is to set off firecrackers and fireworks because the New Year celebrations would not be complete without it. Firecrackers were originally used to scare away evil spirits thanks to their booming noise.

From major cities to rural areas, billions of fireworks and firecrackers are lit up at midnight to celebrate the moment of the new year coming in. However, because firecrackers can easily start fires, this activity has been banned in many places, especially urban areas. But thanks to electronic firecrackers, now Chinese people can enjoy this activity safely. 

5. Send greeting cards

What can be more meaningful to celebrate the Chinese New Year than sending out greeting cards and messages with wishes to family and friends? People often send cards to their parents, relatives, friends, and colleagues, especially those who will not be with them at the festival.

In the past, when the Internet wasn’t as accessible as it is now, people often sent out cards through the post office. Therefore, cards are sent several days before the 1st day of the New Year so that they will arrive at a recipient mailbox on time. But thanks to the drastic development of the Internet, Chinese people can now send text and voice messages right away through several apps such as Wechat, Weibo.

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The bottom line

When the Chinese New Year comes around, Chinese people are getting busier with many traditions and activities to celebrate their biggest holiday. Chinese New Year’s customs and traditions always give outsiders a whoa because there’s always a story or meaning behind each practice. 

If you’re interested in Chinese culture, history, or language, find more posts like this on Pandanese. Pandanese is a Chinese learning platform that helps users learn Chinese easily by employing mnemonics and Spaced Repetition System (SRS). We encourage you to check out our Pandanese blog and read as much as you like about language and culture topics before starting your learning!

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