Culture  Chinese New Year: fun facts
25/01/201700:00 TV5MONDE

Gong Hey Fat Choy!
 
It’s not quite Chinese New Year yet, but those who are familiar with the global Chinese community’s biggest festival are sure to have heard of this expression before. When saying this, the speaker wishes the recipient to have a prosperous year, or more specifically, to make lots of money. 
 
Known in Mainland China as “Spring Festival”, officially as “Lunar New Year” in Hong Kong, along with variations such as “Chinese Spring Festival” in other parts of the world, in 2017 it will fall on the 28th of January. Did you know, however, that celebrations and preparations for the most important day and festival in the Chinese culture starts much earlier?
 
Within China (and the greater global Chinese community), traditions can vary greatly due to the history and practices of different ethnic groups or regional customs. It would get quite lengthy for us to name every single historical (or fun!) fact, custom, practice and festivities across regions and countries, so here’s our little collection of various fun facts about CNY. 
 

The start and end of the Chinese New Year
 
First of all, know that due to cycles of the moon, Chinese New Year always falls on a different day in each calendar year. Generally speaking it will be within the months of January and February. Before 1911 (i.e. abolishment of the Qing Dynasty), the term “spring festival” used to specifically refer to the onset of the actual season of Spring in the Chinese lunar calendar. From 1911 onwards, this became the first day of the first month of the lunar calendar instead.
 
Another fun fact to note is that CNY does not happen only on one specific day. In fact, preparations for it historically start almost one month before, with the preparation of the La Ba congee, a concoction of mixed nuts, dried beans and steamed rice (made to the consistency of porridge), eaten at home and distributed as alms to the poor. In contemporary days and until now, CNY technically ends on the 15th day after the inaugural day. The fifteenth day is also known as China’s very own Valentine Day, or more popularly so, the Lantern Festival.
 
Popular practices before Chinese New Year
 
Traditionally, for several days in a row before CNY, specific actions are taken in order to pay respect to one’s ancestors, worship local (or household) gods, etc. While not all customs remained to be respected in the modern era, generally families would perform deep cleaning of the house on the 3rd day before CNY.
 

 
Another popular practice is calligraphy; those who are excellent with the Chinese cursive (particularly elders or members of the literati) are very popular in the community, with many flocking to them for hand-written phrases of luck written in ink on red paper. These red posters will then be put up around the house for good luck, as well as to celebrate the coming of the new year.
 


Temporary flea markets
 
A practice that is very popular particularly in southern China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau are the temporary flea markets. The markets sell all kinds of festive wares - from decorative items, food, floral arrangements to all kinds of knick knacks, going to the market for a stroll and shopping is a tradition that has become even more popular nowadays among young people.
 
New Year’s Eve dinner
 
Traditionally, customs across China from the North to the South can vary greatly when it comes to the celebration of New Year (or other popular festivities, as a matter of fact). That being said, having a family dinner on the night before New Year is a must for all. This dinner is one where ideally all members of the family gather to have dinner together. One must sit around a round table, or at least in a circle, as it rhymes with “union”. 
 

Sweet and sticky rice balls are usually eaten as a dessert after, as, well, you've guessed it - the name of this dessert also rhymes with "union".
 
Regional variations
 
In China, Hong Kong and Taiwan alone, there exist many interesting regional variations with the celebrations. For example, making dumplings the night before, and eating them on the day of the New Year is obligatory for those in Northern China. 
 
In Hong Kong, rice balls with sweet fillings (such as sesame or red bean), as well as steamed radish cakes are the more popular choice. 
 
In Taiwan, we see more dishes inspired by the sea. On the actual day of the New Year, vegetarian dishes are consumed in the morning, but this could vary across regions.
 
Other interesting regional customs


Traditionally, elders do not leave the house on the first day; other family members come to them and pay their respect, receiving red pockets (containing money) in return. Red pockets are usually only given by elders or those who are married.
  • The Bai ethnic group, primarily residing in Yunnan, China, has the habit of putting fireworks into bamboo shoots and setting them off as celebrations
  • The Oronco people in Northeastern China would pour and drink a toast to one another, with the order aligned by age. Younger members would bow to older ones. They also smear each other’s faces black on the 16th day after Chinese New Year. 
  • Hong Kong considers the third day of the Chinese New Year to be one where one could easily get into arguments. Family visits are avoided on this day and many choose to visit temples instead.
 

Wong Tai Sin Temple in Hong Kong gets very crowded on the 3rd day after CNY, filled with worshippers
 
This is, of course, a non-exhaustive list of fun facts regarding this huge festival. Share with us if you know of interesting practices or customs!
 
 
No matter where you are, or whether or not you celebrate or observe Chinese New Year, TV5MONDE wishes you a very happy day or week(s) of festivities.

Happy New Year of the Rooster!
TV5MONDE is the world's cultural TV network in French. It is broadcasted in French and offers a wide variety of exclusive subtitled primetime films, world-class sports events, high-quality documentaries, kids’ programs, cooking and design lessons, as well as exciting game shows and in-depth coverage of international news. With a network of 10 channels reaching 265 million homes worldwide on all platforms and over-the-top, and localized programming subtitled in 12 languages, TV5MONDE reaches the world’s business and cultural elite as well as the vast global community of Francophiles.

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