Celebrating Chinese New Year

by Ōuyáng Xī 欧阳茜

This is the second of a two-part series about traditions for celebrating Chinese New Year in my hometown in southern China.


Many traditions symbolize a fresh start for the new year, like getting haircuts and cleaning house. But I think the most important part of Chinese New Year in China, like Christmas here in the United States, is the family reunion.

We live in a small town in China, and our entire family travels back to an even smaller village where my grandparents grew up. On the first day of the New Year, we visit my grandparents on my father’s side, and on the second day, my grandparents on my mother’s side.

Meet The Family

I always meet a lot of “new” relatives at these gatherings. When I’m introduced, I follow etiquette based upon their generation and relationship with my parents. For people my grandparents’ age, I kneel to show my respect. For people my parents’ age, we shake hands, one hand for distant relatives, both hands for closer relatives. If my parents kneel to someone, I follow their lead. We sit down for tea, catch up with each other’s lives, play Mahjong, and then visit the next family in the village.

My parents both grew up in the same town so it’s easy for our family to follow these New Year traditions. It’s difficult for many young people because their family may come from different provinces in China, and it can sometimes take days to travel between the two cities.

红包 Red Envelopes

Children love the Chinese New Year because they receive red envelopes “红包” from their parents, grandparents, and friends. What’s in the red envelope? Cash, usually in even denominations such as 200 yuan or 600 yuan, but never the number 4. Four is an unlucky number in the Chinese culture because its pronunciation, sì 四, sounds like sǐ 死, which means “death” in Chinese. Alternatively, you can’t go wrong with the number 6, which sounds like “smooth,” or number 8, which sounds like “wealth.”

Traditionally, anyone who is not married receives a red envelope. (These days, if you’re unmarried but have a stable income, you likely won’t receive one.) When I was a graduate student in the United States, my parents would send me “electronic” red envelopes through We-chat (similar to Facebook). With the convenience of technology, even close friends send small amounts of money, like “6.66 yuan” or “8.88 yuan” to each other as New Year greetings.

Thank you so much for reading!
Happy New Year! 新年快乐!Good luck in The Year of Dog! 狗年大吉!

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