Chinese New Year preparations for the new lunar year begin weeks in advance. After all, starting into the new year on the right foot is crucial. It sets the potential for the next 12 months. Luck, health, and prosperity need to know that they are more than welcome to hang around in the upcoming year.
Just as the traditional January 1 New Year celebration, observing Chinese New Year is about having an opportunity for a fresh start. Conveniently, the Lunar New Year is typically later in January or February. If you've already broken those January 1 resolutions, you could start again for Chinese New Year!
Regardless, some old traditions — and a handful of superstitions — have people throughout the world making Chinese New Year preparations leading up to the 15-day event.
Unlike our January 1 New Year's Eve celebration, the Chinese New Year festival is considered to be the most important 15 days of the year. It sets the potential for the upcoming year's prosperity and fortune.
All measures are taken to increase the odds that as much good fortune as possible will be received during the celebration. Even windows are opened to allow good luck to come inside!
Preparing the House
With so much to be done, Chinese New Year preparations typically begin a few weeks before, especially if you'll be hosting a party.
Traditionally, the house is swept, cleaned, and decorated for optimal feng shui. The spring cleaning done before Chinese New Year is usually the most thorough of the entire year; it's the time to clean out all those drawers! Broken items, dead plants, and all clutter should be thrown out to make room for better things that are sure to come.
Finish all of your cleaning before the holiday arrives. Sweeping the house during Chinese New Year is considered unlucky, as you could be sweeping the new, incoming good luck away!
Avoid doing any cutting during Chinese New Year. Prune plants and shrubs before the holiday begins.
Red banners adorned with Chinese calligraphy — known as chunlian — are hung around the house to usher in prosperity in the new year.
Since cutting done during Chinese New Year is considered unlucky, hair and fingernails should be trimmed in advance. Most families want to look their best for visits with loved ones and photographs, so new clothes or accessories — preferably red — are often purchased.
If red just isn't your color, you can get by with a pair of red underwear during Chinese New Year — yes, it's a tradition! Even a red bracelet, piece of jewelry, or ribbon tied around the wrist will do.
With many businesses shut down the first few days of the holiday, shopping should be done as early as possible. As with every holiday, stores hold special sales and promotions to cash in.
Here are a few items to remember:
- Food: Groceries for the festival dinners and regular meals need to be purchased in anticipation of the holiday. Store shelves are often ransacked the week before Chinese New Year. You're sure to be traveling or hosting guests, potentially both, so lots of snacks are in order. Dumplings are a must — they're good for prosperity.
- Clothing: Chinese New Year is a time to look your best; new wardrobes are purchased for family gatherings, temple visits, and public celebrations. Red is the color of choice. White and black clothing should be avoided during Chinese New Year. Don't forget to purchase red underwear or a red bracelet for the days that you cannot wear another red outfit!
- Gifts: Small gifts and tokens of love are exchanged during Chinese New Year, so purchase candies, small cakes, trinkets, and candles. Children typically receive money or sweets placed inside of red envelopes known as hong bao. Alcohol, tea, fruit, flowers, and sweets make great Chinese New Year gifts for party hosts — don't show up empty-handed! If you choose to give fruit, give oranges, and make sure that baskets do not include pears. Avoid gifts that are considered unlucky, such as umbrellas.
- Lanterns and Candles: Paper lanterns and tea-light candles will be needed for the Lantern Festival on the 15th — and final — day of Chinese New Year.
Special flower markets can be found during Chinese New Year that sell flowers and small gifts. Flowers are used to freshen up homes, as gifts for hosts, and to help spark romance. In short, you're going to need a lot of flowers.
Don't just blindly purchase flowers based on appearance; all colors and species have symbolic meanings! Avoid white flowers — they are usually used for funerals, particularly chrysanthemums. Orchids make a great choice, but know that they represent fertility and abundance. Peach and plum blossoms are very positive choices to give hosts.
Settle Old Debts
In an act of good karma, old debts of all kinds to friends and family are repaid prior to Chinese New Year. This is the time to return borrowed items; give your neighbor back that tool you borrowed months earlier. If a friendship has worn thin, reach out to that person. Forgive grudges, and give people who have wronged you in some way a chance to start anew.
Prepare for Good Luck
The whole point of Chinese New Year preparations goes beyond getting ready to enjoy feasts, fireworks, lion dances, and drinking sessions — although there are plenty of those! It's a time for family reunions, new beginnings, renewed romance, and new potential for a year to come.
The 15-day Lunar New Year holiday sets the tone for the upcoming year. Every aspect of daily life, down to the most minute detail, during the Chinese New Year celebration should be focused on attracting luck and good fortune for the rest of the year.