Partner Julie Man delves into the vibrant traditions and symbolism of Chinese New Year as we enter the Year of the Dragon.
Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year, is a major date on the Asian cultural calendar and celebration for millions of people in countries across the Far East.
The celebrations bring people together. In China, millions travel -sometimes thousands of miles - to celebrate with their families. In China it is a week-long public holiday.
There are loud, colourful outdoor displays and parades involving popping firecrackers, spectacular fireworks and the echo of drums as dragon dancers weave along the streets.
People decorate their houses with red for good luck and children are given money in bright red envelopes. Everyone prays for good fortune for the year ahead.
In our household there is added excitement this year with the Year of the Dragon. (We have a little dragon in our house this year!)
What does the 'Year of the Dragon' mean?
There is a 12-year cycle covering the 12 different animals. Each year is associated with one of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac.
Those born in the year of the dragon are brave, competitive and strong.
In our family, you will hear a Cantonese New Year greeting of "Gong Hei Fat Choy", spoken in southern China and Hong Kong, which means "wishing you prosperity". In Mandarin, people say "Xin Nian Kuai Le" meaning "Happy New Year".
What will you be doing to celebrate?
I remember being taken to London’s Chinatown when I was young. The street would be crowded with people. Lion dances and parades would wander through the streets to the booming beat of drums.
The firecrackers have two purposes: firstly, they’re fun, loud and add to the celebratory atmosphere; secondly, they have a traditional role in warding off the dragon-lion, Nian. Legend has it he would attack villagers and sometimes ‘eat’ children but could be frightened by loud noises.
The symbolism of red
You will see a lot of vibrant red everywhere with streets and houses decorated in red. Red represents prosperity and happiness. It’s considered a lucky colour. People will wear red in celebration to usher in an auspicious new year. Nian also fears red!
There are lively family banquets, unifying family members to enjoy a delicious array of food.
My children’s favourite part is the exchanging of red envelopes. These contain ‘lucky money’ for the upcoming year and are normally given by elders to the younger generations, especially children. If you’re married, you’re expected to give red packets; whereas if you’re single, you’re lucky as you’ll typically receive them.
Chinese New Year is a celebration full of many traditions and symbolism.
“Gong hei fat choy”.