Everything you need to know about Chinese New Year

February 17, 2015
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Foodies and lovers of Asian culture at the ready, for the time has come. It’s Chinese New Year and in between the dumplings, buns, lanterns, dancing dragons and firecrackers it’s going to be hard to escape the festivity that comes with the cultural celebration. And hey, no complaining here. Not sure where to start? Let us help you out.

The historical low-down on Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is one of many festivals celebrated at the end of the Lunar calendar across the world. Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Tibet and Vietnam also share the holiday. Celebrated at the turn of the Chinese calendar, celebrations run from New Year’s Eve (this Wednesday February 18) to the Lantern Festival on March 5.

The Chinese lunar calendar is associated with the Chinese Zodiac which has twelve animal signs representing a year in a 12-year cycle. 2015 marks the Year of the Sheep. The Chinese commonly regard sheep as an auspicious animal so this year is expected to be a year of promise and prosperity.

Traditional cuisine

New Year’s Eve dinner is the most important part of Lunar celebrations. As it is usually the family reunion dinner, a number of meals are shared in large portions.

Customarily fish is served and dumplings abound, and both dishes signify prosperity for the coming year. Some other favourites include chicken feet, pig stomach and dim sum. New Year’s Cake, made with rice flour and sugar, is also very popular. Did someone say cake? Yes please.

How to celebrate

If you want to celebrate the Lunar New Year like the Chinese, you’re expected to eat all day from dusk ’til dawn. Eating with family is also an important part of the tradition, as most people return home for the holiday.

Decorating your house in red and exchanging red pockets of money to express thanks for the past year is also a way to welcome in the year ahead. If you were born in the Year of the Sheep (born in 1967, 1979, 1991 or 2003) you should wear red in the form of clothing or jewellery to secure good luck. Some places also have twilight parades and dragon boat racing, two common events that are celebrated during Chinese New Year.

Where to celebrate

Chinese New Year brings with it a plethora of night noodle markets, park festivals and parties so look up what events are happening in your local area, go forth and be merry.

Common Chinese phrases

In Cantonese, it’s customary to say Gong Hey Fat Choy and in Mandarin, Gong Xi Fa Cai, which both mean Happy New Year. These phrases should be said to whoever is attending the New Year’s Eve dinner and if you make contact with anyone during the day preceding. It’s also respectful to say these things when you give each other the red pockets of money.

Eden Caceda

Eden Caceda is studying Arts at the University of Sydney, double majoring in Film Studies and Performance Studies. Eden blogs at edencaceda.com and tweets at @edencaceda.

Image credit: IQRemix, Flickr Creative Commons license

Videographer credit: Jay Liu, Petersham TAFE.

Presenter credit: Kris Cripps, Petersham TAFE.