Lunar New Year Traditions and What they Symbolize

Do you celebrate Lunar New Year or Chinese New Year or want to but don’t really know the traditions involve? The traditions vary slightly by which province in China you’re from or to which country you move to and other Asian countries celebrate them as well and have their own slight variation to the tradition as well. Celebrating the Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year is about families coming together while the Chinese New Year traditions that take place, symbolize the ushering in of good fortune & prosperity for the coming year.

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Chinese New Year Traditions

This year, 2024, Lunar New Year or Chinese New Year will be on Febraury 10 and it is the Year of the Dragon – the Wood Dragon to be precise. The date for Chinese New Year changes every year, from a Western perspective, but comes in either January or February. It is also called Spring Festival or Lunar New Year because it comes in the springtime and the date is based on the Chinese lunar calendar.

Chinese New Year Traditions and What They Symbolize:

Everything you will be cooking, giving, or wearing to celebrate the New Year has symbolism. The celebration starts on Lunar New Year’s eve to the 15th day of the first lunar month which is the Lantern Festival.

Wearing New Clothes – Preferably Red

The Chinese New Year is a time of change and new beginnings so wearing something new is a symbol of removing the old and welcoming the new. Red is also the color of choice when celebrating any happy Chinese occasion as it is the color that represents prosperity and good luck in Chinese. Don’t wear white or black.

Here are the girls in their new red qipao dress. I’m lucky that our daughters really embrace being Chinese – from big sis’ wanting to go to China than anywhere else to her love for white rice and Chinese dishes – there’s no denying what’s running in those tiny veins, haha. 

Feasting on New Year’s Eve

Chinese people always celebrate with food, lots of it! Chinese New Year is no exception but both the names and looks are symbols of wishes for prosperity, happiness, and auspiciousness. As part of the Chinese New Year Traditions, here’s what you must serve:

Long Noodles – They are also called 长寿面 (cháng shòu miàn), which means longevity noodles. The longer the noodle, the longer your life. Make sure not to cut the noodles when preparing them. You can add protein to your noodle and they symbolize:

  • Dumplings or Potstickers: wealth and prosperity
  • Eggs: big and healthy family
  • Duck: loyalty
  • Peaches: longevity
  • Tofu: happiness and fortune for the entire family
  • Fish: surplus and wealth
  • Lobster: endless money rolling in
  • Shrimp: fortune and wealth
  • Roasted pig: peace

Dumplings or when pan-fried, they are called Potstickers – In Chinese, dumplings (饺子—jiǎo zi) sounds like 交子(jiāo zi)交 (Jiāo) means “exchange” and 子(zi) is the midnight hours. Together, jiāo zi is the exchange between the old and new year. By eating dumplings, you are sending away the old and welcoming the new. They also symbolize wealth and prosperity for the new year because they are shaped like ancient Chinese gold coins.

The superstition is that the more you eat during the new year celebrations, the more wealthy you’ll become. I don’t have a problem eating lots of potstickers, haha.

behind the scenes: she can no longer wait for me to finish taking pictures of the dumplings coz’ it smells so good. Gotcha!

Since the Lunar New Year is celebrated for 16 days total, besides eating them on New Year’s Eve, they should also be eaten on the 5th day of the New Year.

Nian Gao or Tikoy – Nian Gao also has the same pronunciation as 高 (gāo – tall/high). It’s a wish to be successful and “higher” each year or every year will be better than the last. Another belief, since it’s a sticky dessert is that luck will stick. There are different ways to prepare them but my favorite is cutting them into thin slices, dipping in egg, then pan-frying them.

Spring Rolls – Eggrolls or spring rolls as they are called in China are eaten during the Spring Festival in Southern China to celebrate the coming of spring. More specifically, they are eaten on the first day of spring. They can appear on the table as a dinner dish, appetizer or snack during the New Year celebration.

Steamed Fish – in Chinese, “fish” (鱼 Yú /yoo/) sounds like ‘surplus’. Chinese people always like to have a surplus at the end of the year, because they think if they have managed to save something at the end of the year, then they can make more in the next year.


Giving Red Packets to Kids

One of the most famous Chinese New Year Traditions is giving red packets. By giving Ang Pao or Ong Bao or red envelope/red packets with NEW money to children, elders are hoping to pass on a year of good fortune and blessings. It’s not important how much money you put in but the envelope and the money have to be new. Don’t use white envelopes, as they are used in funerals only.

Here’s an Ang Pao with a pig design from the Chinese New Year 2 years ago. The Chinese Zodiac runs in a 12-year cycle represented by 12 animal signs and this 2024, it’s the year of the Dragon. Each animal has its own characteristic, people born during the year of the Dragon are said to be confident, ambitious, and adventurous. Do you know anybody born in the year of the Dragon? Are those qualities accurate?

Cleaning and Putting Chinese New Year Decorations

Before the New Year, one must clean up to sweep out the bad luck. On the other hand, on New Year’s day, one must not sweep as that is considered sweeping out the good luck. After you’ve cleaned, you can put up decorations like the Chinese character that means good fortune. You can also see this Chinese character upside down which means good fortune is coming or has already arrived. Most families keep them in the house even after the celebration to usher in good luck and prosperity throughout the year.


Giving Oranges or Tangerines

Oranges, which sounds like ‘gold’ in Cantonese, symbolize wealth while tangerines symbolize good tidings as it sounds like ‘good luck’ in Chinese. Thus, they are symbols of abundant wealth and happiness. Traditionally, people bring a bag of oranges or tangerines when visiting family or friends during Chinese New Year. You can also find small tangerine trees in homes as decorations during the Chinese New Year. When visiting to give gifts, make sure not to do it on the 3rd day or the fifth day of the Lunar New Year as this is considered bad luck.

Also avoid giving watches, sandals, pears, umbrellas, mirrors, and items that are white or black and items totaling 4 as 4 is not a lucky number in Chinese. Number 4 and death in Chinese are pronounced the same way.

Serving “The Tray of Togetherness”

Usually, an 8 compartment tray is filled with candies that are served or given as gifts. 8 is a symbolic number in Chinese representing prosperity. The tray would contain preserved kumquats for prosperity, red melon seeds for happiness, coconut for togetherness and sweets for a sweet and rich life for the coming year.

These are just some of the many Chinese New Year traditions you can partake in. For me, besides the symbolism of ushering in good fortune and celebrating with the family is the passing of the Chinese culture and traditions to our kids so they can learn about their roots at an early age.

Happy Chinese New Year everyone! Don’t forget to send in the Ong Baos! Haha! 新年快乐!

More Lunar New Year Decor and Items:

Check out Printable Lunar New Year Worksheets and Games:

Printable Lunar New Year Maze Worksheet

Lunar New Year Worksheet Printable – “Pineapple” Connect the Dots

Lunar New Year Fortune Cookie Dice Game

Lunar New Year Printable Animal Zodiac Signs Matching Game

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2 thoughts on “Lunar New Year Traditions and What they Symbolize”

  1. Thank you for sharing your family traditions & what they mean! God bless you & your family in the New Year of the Rabbit

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