Chinese New Year preparations begin weeks in advance. How you enter the new year sets the tone for the 12 months that follow, so it's crucial to start off on the right foot in order to enjoy a year of luck, health, and prosperity. Thankfully, long-standing traditions and superstitions provide clear direction for how to do so.
Just as January 1 is a time for self-reflection and setting new goals, observing the Chinese New Year is about having an opportunity for a fresh start. Chinese New Year is based on the lunar calendar and falls sometime between late January and late February, so if you've already given up on those New Year resolutions, it gives you a second chance to start again.
In China, the Lunar New Year festival is a 15-day event and is considered to be the most important holiday of the year. All measures are taken leading up to and during the celebrations to increase the odds that as much good fortune as possible is bestowed upon the household.
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 deep cleaning that is done before Chinese New Year is usually the most thorough of the entire year, so clean out those old drawers, throw out dead plants, and tidy up all that clutter to make room for better things to come.
However, it's critical that you 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 fresh, incoming good luck away. Even taking out the trash, doing laundry, or washing your hair on the day of the lunar new year is considered taboo.
Apart from the cleaning, decorations add a festive flair not only to homes but businesses and government buildings as well. Ornate red banners adorned with golden Chinese calligraphy, known as chūnlián, are hung around the house to usher in prosperity in the new year.
Self-Care and Grooming
Using sharp objects during the entire New Year celebration is believed to cut out good fortunes for the coming year, so get your hair cut and trim your nails beforehand. Most families want to look their best for visits with loved ones and photographs, so new clothes or accessories, preferably red, are often purchased. Red is the most auspicious color in Chinese lore and best for attracting good luck.
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 essential 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 the 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, as 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, but white and black clothing should be avoided during Chinese New Year as they are associated with funerals and death.
- 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 hóng bāo. Alcohol, tea, fruit, flowers, and sweets make great Chinese New Year gifts for party hosts, just 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 the Chinese New Year that sells flowers and small gifts. Flowers are used for freshening 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, since all colors and species have symbolic meanings. Avoid white flowers as 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 and appropriate 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 the Chinese New Year. This is the time to return borrowed items, so 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 fresh potential for the year to come.
Since your actions during Lunar New Year may determine the outcome for the entire year ahead, it's important to make all the necessary arrangements before and during the celebration, down to the most minute details. But with some simple preparations, you'll have no trouble attracting all of the luck and good fortune you'll need.