4 ways to get ready for Chinese New Year

Wyatt Ong
4 ways to get ready for Chinese New Year
Little ways to join in on the fun, including spring cleaning, lucky decorations, and gearing up for a feast

MANILA, Philippines – Besides the date, which is based on the Lunar calendar, Chinese New Year, held this year on February 19, actually shares a lot of characteristics with regular New Year’s day on January 1. There’s usually a feast, families reunite, and certain practices, some adapted or modified from age-old traditions, others unique to specific clans, are observed. 

The heart of the story is that we remember the past but leave the year behind, focusing on the possibilities of tomorrow. 

Although many of the customs are no longer as rigidly followed, others continue to be observed today. Join in on the fun this year as we welcome the year of the sheep.

Customary to clean

A bout of spring cleaning is in order during this season, but it’s often done before the New Year itself – in this case, before February 19. The idea is to sweep away traces of evil spirits that may be lurking, but even if that’s not your line of thinking, cleaning before a big event is a therapeutic way to ritualistically get rid of the old in order to prepare for the new. Plus, if you’re going to have company, you’re going to have to clean anyway. 

Note that it’s customary to clean before New Year, not during the day itself, as you don’t want to accidentally sweep good luck out. When you do clean before New Year’s, do it with an inwards motion, to keep good luck inside the home. 

Symbols of prosperity

Wreaths, Christmas trees, and Poinsettia plants are mainstays during the Christmas season in December, but that’s tweaked a little bit for Chinese New Year. In general, go for bright colors (red is a favorite, of course) and round objects, which signify prosperity. 

You’ll also see a lot of fruits for display in many households during Chinese New Year and Chinese New Year’s eve – pineapples, mandarin oranges, and large fuji apples are popular choices, but steer clear of hollow fruits. Being “hollow” and therefore “empty,” these fruits (like melons) may be tasty, but they aren’t to be offered to the ancestors. 

Many Chinese also hang banners with Chinese characters upside down on their doors or main gates. You’re likely to see decorations with the Chinese character “Fu,” which means “luck” on them, turned upside down. The Chinese expression “Fu dao le” means “luck has come,” but “dao” is homophonic with the Chinese expression for “upside down.” Having a colorful banner bearing this design on the front doors is another way of inviting luck in the upcoming year. 

Lucky digs   

Red is the most popular color to wear on Chinese New Year – all the way down to your undies. In general, evil spirits are said to fear loud noises and the color red. Additionally, red is known to be a happy color, symbolizing good fortune and growth, which is why it’s often worn on special occasions like birthdays, too. 

Also, it doesn’t hurt that a favorite custom is for children and unmarried members of the family (one of the many perks of being single) to receive money wrapped in those bright red envelopes, called “hong bao” or “ang bao” – a surefire way to bring on good vibes.  

If red is not your color, you can also opt to wear something new and of good quality – again, down to the undies.  

Believe it or not, these Chinese New Year customs also extend to grooming, as you’re not supposed to cut your hair or nails on Chinese New Year – also viewed to be inauspicious. 

Getting together 

Relationships are at the heart of this particular holiday, with family get-togethers being of prime importance. Keep in mind who you invite to these special occasions, as family really should be in the spotlight during this holiday. 

The major activity is a feast on New Year’s eve, which is often preceded by offerings made to ancestors, deities, or to the dearly departed.  

If you are forced to field some awkward questions from relatives, though, the strategic way to go about that is not that much different from how you would answer at family gathering during other holidays. (READ: Polite replies to ‘Ang taba mo!’ and other Christmas party remarks

Gracefully sidestepping those pointed questions from solicitous relatives – “When will you get married?” “Are you gaining weight?” “Still no boyfriend?” – will come in handy in the New Year in particular. Note that actions during this holiday are said to set a precedent for the whole year ahead – so no fighting, crying, or eye-rolling that day, or you’ll supposedly be doing it all year long! –Rappler.com

Photo of tangerines from Shutterstock

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