Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Day-by-Day Guide to Celebrating Chinese New Year

It is that time of year again.  Time for Spring Festival 春節.

At Chinese for Families we're a bit old fashioned.  We love folklore, ancient history, and old fashioned traditions.  When should you start your preparations for 春節 New Year, with the Laba Festival of course. 

The Laba Festival 臘八節 falls on the 8th day of the 12th month (in the lunar calendar).  If you missed it, don't worry, you can put it on your calendar for next year.  On Laba Festival, families eat 八寶粥 8 Treasure Porridge made from rice with 臘肉 la rou (bacon), fruit, tofu and nuts.  There are many stories behind this festival. In each, this simple porridge of left over rice, fruit and meat saved the characters from from a terrible fate.   
The Kitchen God Festival 小年 Xiao Nian
The Kitchen God 灶神 lives above the stove.  He is the household reporter - similar to Santa Claus with one important difference -- he keeps track the adults too.  All year long, he watches everyone in the house while his wife keeps a careful record.  On the 23rd or 24th day of the 12th lunar month, the men in the house remove his picture from above the stove and send him to heaven for a meeting with the Jade Emperor.  Before sending him on his way, it is important to make certain the Kitchen God is happy and well fed.  He will be reporting both the good and the bad upon his arrival in heaven.  To keep him from telling your secrets, you need to offer him special foods.  For ideas on what to feed your Kitchen God, listen to this story from NPR.  To hedge your bets, it's a good idea to smear a little honey on his lips and include melon candy in his offerings.  This will make his words sweet.  Or, you could add a very American food certain to keep him from talking.  A honey and peanut butter sandwich should do the trick!  We have a downloadable Kitchen God calendar for you coming soon to our Facebook page.

Now it's time to send your kitchen God to heaven (with a little help of your fireplace).  You can work on a new poster for next year.  Don't post it right away, put the new Kitchen God up after the Lantern Festival is over. Mark your calendars and don't forget the Kitchen God's birthday.  It takes place on the 3rd day of the 8th lunar month (around August and September).  You'll have another chance to get on his good side before next year.

Flower Market Day
Visit a Flower Market and find beautiful spring blooms to decorate your house.  The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco prepared a wonderful guide to shopping for Chinese New Year plants.  

House Cleaning Day
Kids can grab brooms, mops and dust clothes to help their parents 打掃房子dasao fangzi.  House cleaning before Spring Festival is essential.  Sweep out the old dirt, dust, and bad luck.  Then, put the brooms away till the first day of the new year has passed.  You'll avoid sweeping away the new year's good luck and have a clean house. 

Everyone needs new clothes, a hair cut, and decorations for the house.  Don't forget to pick up door gods 門神 menshen and new year sayings or Chunlian春聯 (check out our Facebook page for a downloadable link).  These wishes for a prosperous new year can be found in Chinese markets, bookstores and if you are lucky from your friendly neighborhood calligrapher.  Always printed on red paper, they feature gold and black ink, beautiful writing and auspicious decorations.

New Year's Eve 除夕Chu Xi
The big day has finally arrived.  Spend all day (or even start a couple days before) making the biggest feast of the year.  For ideas on what to cook, may we suggest the culinary creations of Jaden Hair from the Steamy Kitchen.  For my fellow vegetarians, peruse this menu from the Vegetarian Times.  Each dish in the new year meal is important and represents something special.  Whole fish symbolize prosperity.  It is important to save this dish for new year's day.  The word for fish 魚 sounds like the word for having a surplus 餘.  The saying 年年有餘 niannian you yu is a wish that every year there will be a surplus.  In Mandarin it sounds like "every year there will be fish!" Gather your whole family for the new year's eve meal.  Make certain to cook enough to avoid cooking on new year's day.  Using knives, scissors or other sharp objects is bad luck on the first day of the year.  

Parents and grandparents give children red envelopes 紅包 hongbao filled with crisp clean new bills.  Children put them under their pillows when they fall asleep to bring good dreams. It's going to be a late night - everyone stays up till midnight to welcome the new year.
The Story of Nian 年 (click to watch a video on our Facebook page)
According to legend, the Nian 年 monster came down from the mountains or out of the sea every new year's eve to terrorize families.  Each year the villagers would flee and hide in the mountain caves.  One year, an elderly man entered the village and provided sage advice.  Decorate your homes with with red lanterns 燈籠 denglong, bright chunlian 春聯, and stay up past midnight setting off fire crackers and making noises.  The bright red color and noise will frighten Nian 年 into thinking the village is filled with fire.  The ruse worked year after year and Nian 年 never returned.  The new year wish "過年了 guo nian le" refers to this success - Nian 年 has passed by.  For this reason, firecrackers are set off at midnight on new year's eve.  In ancient China, bamboo served a similar purpose.  It was heated till it cracked making noises 踩歲 caisui like firecrackers. 

New Year's Day
The first day of the new year is for spending time with family.  It is important to honor your elders and visit your grandparents.  Avoid using knives and other sharp objects.  Leave the housework for another day - it's bad luck to clean.  Give your children red envelopes 紅包 hongbao and catch a Lion Dance.  Don't forget to wish everyone a happy new year 恭喜發財 gongxi facai or simply 恭喜 gongxi.  Some families eat vegetarian for the first day of the year. 

2nd day of New Year
On the second day of the new year, married women return home to visit their parents.  Some believe this is also a special day for dogs, so give your furry friend a special treat. 

3rd day of New Year
On the 3rd day, families visit the temple and son's visit their parents.  

5th day of New Year
The 5th day is the 財神 God of Fortune's birthday. Wish everyone "財神來錢財到 caishen lai, qian cai dao," May the God of Fortune come and may wealth arrive with him.

6th day - Lion Dance Parade

7th day of New Year
Everyone has a birthday today.  This holiday is known as ren ri 人日.

Jan 31 - 8th day of New Year
Celebrate the birthday of the Jade Emperor with another family dinner.

12th days of New Year
Time to invite friends and family over for dinner.  Share the joy of the season.

13th Day of New Year

After all the over indulgence of the past two weeks, it's time for some vegetables.  Celebrate with vegetarian meals for a day.

15th day of New Year Lantern Festival 元宵節 Yuanxiao jie
The last day of the new year holiday is here.  Children will enjoy 湯圓 tangyuan - a sugar soup with sweet rice dumplings.  In China and Taiwan, lanterns decorate the streets and families go out at night to see the beautiful lights.  You can make your own lanterns together and hold a family contest to see who makes the most beautiful lantern.  According to legend, the Jade Emperor had a beautiful pet bird.  Some say he became angry at the people on earth for killing the bird, other say he was simply jealous of the happiness on earth.  He decided to set fire to earth on the 15th day of the new year.  A heavenly maiden warned the people of earth.  They decorated their homes with bright red lanterns making everything bright as if on fire.  The Jade Emperor was fooled and calamity averted.

You now have a day-by-day guide to Chinese New Year.  Enjoy the holiday by sharing meals with friends and family.  Don't forget to post a new Kitchen God poster in your kitchen, just watch what you do in front of him.  Remember, he's watching you!

We invite you to share your favorite Chinese New Year recipes and traditions.  Please leave a comment.  Note:  all comments are reviewed prior to posting too keep this a family friendly blog.  Thank you! 

We have more crafts and activities on our Facebook and Twitter pages.  Visit us there throughout the new year for new activities and chunlian 春聯 for the first 15 days of the holiday.  


  1. Thanks so much for this post! What great information. Looking forward to your reviews on Chinese materials that your family has used!
    Thanks again!

    1. We are delighted that you like the post. Stay tuned for our first product review coming February 15.