Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival and Lunar New Year, is the most important celebration in the Chinese culture. Families come together, grievances are forgiven, and gifts are exchanged as a new year is welcomed with wishes for wealth and health. Getting ready for Chinese New Year starts weeks ahead with shopping, cleaning, and decorating. The following are important customs done in preparation for this festive celebration in order to ensure an auspicious new year.
It’s important to clean your house prior to the Lunar New Year from top to bottom. In China, days are spent cleaning every corner of the house so that no bad luck from the old year will follow into the new year. This includes dusting, scrubbing, discarding unused or broken things and replacing dead and dying plants with fresh new plants. Cleaning the house symbolizes sweeping out any misfortune from the previous year that has accumulated in your home. Be sure not to sweep on Chinese Lunar New Year’s Eve and for the next three days or you’ll be sweeping out the good luck! It’s great to get the kids involved in giving their rooms a good cleaning and de-cluttering (and to check those closets and under that bed!)
Settle Debts & Make Amends
Settling any debts is important to start off the new year with a clean slate as old debts are considered a bad omen to the new year. The same holds true for making amends, with old grudges released and differences mended.
There are many traditional ways to decorate for Chinese Lunar New Year. Bowls of oranges and tangerines are set out. Oranges represent money and wealth and tangerines represent good luck. Fresh flowers, flowering branches and kumquat trees are placed throughout the house or at an altar.
Decorating with red paper cutouts for the New Year is especially customary in Northern China (and traditionally across all of China). Red is considered an auspicious color that will bring good luck into the new year. Try making symmetrical paper cuts of flowers with your kids or use the printable template for the Chinese character for Spring found here.
Red banners with spring couplets are also used to decorate. These couplets are paired phrases hung on either side of a door frame and sometimes with one over the door. These couplets are filled with best wishes for the new year and/or commemorate the spring. Putting up spring couplets is thought to keep evil away. You can buy paper spring couplets in most Asian groceries this time of the year, print one found here, or find ideas on how kids can make their own here.
Along with the spring couplets, lucky word signs are also used to decorate. These are red diamond shaped papers with special lucky Chinese characters written on them in black and gold (which represents wealth). These are also hung around doorways because that is where the new year will enter the house. They are also put on bedroom doors and mirrors. Find a printable lucky word sign here.
Get a New Look
It’s customary to get a haircut and buy new clothes to be worn on New Year day. The idea is that with a new look, last year’s bad spirits won’t recognize you and follow you into the new year.
Bribe the Kitchen God
The Kitchen God is a popular deity that adorns the wall near the family’s stove in many Chinese households. His role is to watch over their actions throughout the year, in order to report on their behavior to the Jade Emperor in heaven. If the report is unfavorable, the family will be plagued with bad luck in the coming year. One week before Chinese Lunar New Year day, the Kitchen God is honored with offerings of sweet foods and/or Nian Gao, which are glutinous rice cakes. Sweet foods, such as a smear of honey to his lips, are a bribe, in hopes of “sweetening” his report to the Jade Emperor. The stickiness of the glutinous rice cakes is intended to stick his jaw shut, denying him the opportunity to give a negative report. After the offerings of food, his picture is burnt, and through the smoke, he rises up to the heavens to meet with the Jade Emperor. You can find a coloring page of the Kitchen God here and a recipe for Nian Gao here.
Once preparations for the Spring Festival are complete, there is nothing left but to celebrate. And with the Chinese New Year festival lasting 15 days, there are plenty of ways to celebrate!
Looking for more activities and crafts to prepare for and celebrate the Chinese New Year? Find my family’s top ten things to do for Chinese New Year here.
Title image adapted from original photo credited to Khanh Hmoong
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This post is part of the Chinese New Year series and giveaway on Multicultural Kid Blogs. Enter our giveaway to win one of these great prize packages, and don’t forget to link up your own posts about Chinese New Year on our main page!
Giveaway begins Jan. 21 and goes through midnight ET on March 5, 2015. Enter below for a chance to win! Remember you can make a comment on the blog post of a different co-host each day for an additional entry.
First Prize Package
From Tuttle Publishing, All About China: Take the whole family on a whirlwind tour of Chinese history and culture with this delightfully illustrated book that is packed with stories, activities and games. Travel from the stone age through the dynasties to the present day with songs and crafts for kids that will teach them about Chinese language and the Chinese way of life.
Also from Tuttle Publishing, Long-Long’s New Year, a beautifully illustrated picture book about a little Chinese boy named Long-Long, who accompanies his grandfather into the city to sell cabbages in order to buy food and decorations for the New Year. Selling cabbages is harder than Long-Long expects, and he encounters many adventures before he finds a way to help his grandfather, and earn New Year’s treats for his mother and little cousin.
From A Little Mandarin, a CD featuring a collection of Chinese children’s classics – songs loved by families in China for generations – given new life with a contemporary sound and voice. The 15 tracks fuse rock, pop, dance, ska, and hip hop influences with playful lyrics to make it a unique and fun learning companion for all ages. Featured on Putumayo Kids Presents World Sing-Along.
Second Prize Package
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From Tuttle Publishing, Celebrating the Chinese New Year, in which Little Mei’s grandfather tells her the stories of Nian and the monster Xi for Chinese New Year.
Also from Tuttle Publishing, The Sheep Beauty, which brings to life the kindness and generosity of those born under the sign of the sheep in the Chinese zodiac.
Also from Tuttle Publishing, Chinese Zodiac Animals, a fun and informative way to learn about the ancient Chinese Zodiac, explaining the traits of each animal sign and what luck the future might hold for the person born under that sign.
From Tiny Tapping Toes, a monkey drum, plus a free pdf of a craft version. World Music children’s performer DARIA has spent the last two decades performing in the USA and around the world, creating music to inspire all the world’s children and allowing children to become a part of the celebration and the fun of exploring world cultures.by
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I always enjoy Marie’s post especially this one! Love how she explained the importance of preparing for the Chinese New Year. I’m thinking a new look is in the works for me! 🙂
Thank you Frances. (Great excuse to get your hair done, right? I totally agree 🙂 )
Love the idea of starting the year with a clean house!
Thank you so much for this insightful blog. I live in Beijing so it was helpful to know more details of the New Year celebrations. I can feel all the excitement around me already 🙂