Gong xi fa cai! Welcome to the year of the fire monkey!
It’s Chinese New Year this month and in 2016 Chinese people around the world are welcoming the Year of the Monkey! If you do business with China or have colleagues who are Chinese, this is one holiday that you should know about and pay attention to.
That’s because for your business contacts in Hong Kong and China – and people of Chinese heritage around the world – Chinese New Year is a milestone event with far greater cultural significance than the New Year of the Western calendar.
Chinese New Year also provides smart business owners and professionals with a great opportunity to strengthen their relationships with Chinese clients and suppliers.
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What does the festival look like?
Chinese Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is the world’s largest event – almost a sixth’s of the Earth’s population celebrate it!
Celebrations begin on February 7 (New Year’s Eve) and last for 15 days. The big party is on February 8 (New Year’s Day).
In mainland China, the festival begins with Chunyun, China’s largest annual migration. Beginning in January, more than 1 billion Chinese migrant workers and students leave densely populated cities to return home to their villages.
The festivities conclude with Lantern Festival, the 15th day of the New Year.
Although the holiday originated in China it is also celebrated in other Asian countries and economies with significant Chinese populations, including Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, and Taiwan.
In London, which hosts the largest Chinese New Year celebration outside Asia, the key celebrations begin on Valentine’s Day, February 14.
What is the significance of the Year of the Monkey?
Each Chinese New Year is characterised by one of the 12 animals that make up the Chinese zodiac. Just like the Western zodiac, the Chinese horoscope is divided into 12 houses but each sign has a time-length of one year rather than one month.
This year it’s the Year of the Monkey, the ninth animal in the cycle. The next Year of the Monkey will be in 2028.
People born in the Year of the Monkey are known as being lively, quick-witted, curious, innovative and mischievous and successful in career and money-related matters. On the other hand, monkeys have several shortcomings, such as an impetuous temper and a tendency to look down upon others.
What do people do during Chinese New Year?
There are lots of customs associated with Chinese New Year. Here are just a few!
Clean the house before New Year begins
This tradition is founded in the belief that cleaning the house at this time of year will “sweep away the bad luck” that has accumulated inside over the past year. Cleaning also makes the house ready for the good luck to start entering again.
Decorate the house red
After a good spring clean, it’s traditional to decorate your house to welcome the New Year – and most of the decorations are red! Popular New Year decorations include:
- Pasting paper cutouts onto the window. These elaborate cutouts usually depict scenes from rural life or Chinese mythology and are traditionally put up on south and north facing windows.
- Displaying Chinese New Year paintings and artwork. Traditionally, these contain images of health and bounty, including animals and fruit. You could include a “door god” image on your door, traditionally to fight off evil spirits and bless your house.
- Hanging up couplets as decoration. You can write spring-themed couplets yourself or buy Chinese calligraphy printed on red paper.
- Decorating with paper lanterns. These are made of red paper and are one of the most common decorations during Chinese New Year.
Enjoy a Reunion Dinner
The New Year’s Eve dinner is the most important dinner for the Chinese. Normally, this is the family reunion dinner, especially for those with family members away from home. During the dinner, normally fish will be served. Dumplings are the most important dish in Northern China. These two dishes signify prosperity. Other dishes are dependent on personal preference. The majority of Chinese will have New Year’s Eve dinner at home instead of a restaurant.
The Red packet is a red envelope with money in it, ranging from one to a few thousand Chinese Yuan. Red packets are usually given by adults, especially married couples and elders, to young children during the festival. Tradition has it that the money in the red packet will ward off evil, keep the receiver healthy, and give them a long life.
Let off some fireworks
Fireworks are used to drive away the evil in China. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, people let off fireworks to celebrate the coming of the New Year as well as to drive away the evil. It is believed the person who launches the first firework of the New Year will have good luck.
Put on new clothes and give New Year’s greetings
On the first day of the New Year, Chinese put on new clothes, say “gongxi” (恭喜 /gong-sshee/ literally ‘respectful joy’, it means ‘greetings’ or ‘best wishes’), and wish each other good luck and happiness in the New Year. It is customary for the younger generation to visit their elders, and wish them health and longevity.
In recent years, a new way to do New Year greetings has appeared, especially among the young. Busy people who don’t have time to visit their friends or relatives send a New Year card or a text message instead. See Chinese New Year Greetings.
In my next blog I’ll answer the question: How can I use Chinese New Year to build a bridge with my Chinese colleagues and suppliers? Watch this space!
Cynthia Dearin is managing director of Dearin & Associates, an international business consultancy that helps companies access opportunities and capital in fast-growing international markets.