What you need to know about Chinese New Year…

19 Feb


The origin of Chinese New Year traces back to a centuries-old tradition that some believe to have started as early as the reign of Emperors Yao and Sun in 2300 BC. Others say this celebration originated from the year-end religious ceremony during the Shang Dynasty (1766 BC – 1122 BC). According to one legend, it all began with a terrible mythical monster that preyed on villagers. This lion-like monster’s name was “Nian” (年) which is also the Chinese word for “year.”

As the story goes, there was a wise old man who counseled the villagers to ward off the evil Nian by making loud noises with drums, setting off firecrackers, lighting red lanterns, and hanging red paper cut outs on their doors. The villagers took the old man’s advice and the Nian monster was scared off. On the anniversary of the date, the Chinese recognize the “passing of the Nian” known in Chinese as “guo nian” (过年), which is also synonymous with celebrating the new year.


Traditionally, the annual festival lasted for 15 days starting in late January, though the date changes year-to-year according to the lunar calendar. This is a special time for family and friends – and is considered by Chinese to be the most important holiday of the year. Family members travel long distances for large family reunions to celebrate the new year with firecrackers and street parades with loud drumming (along with lion and dragon dances). Red lanterns are hung, together with red paper cutouts and scrolls of calligraphy. Every child looks forward to receiving “hongbao” (red envelopes) filled with crisp new money.

Red is the color of the season – as it is in general for Chinese birthdays, weddings, and other auspicious events. It’s important to note that during Chinese New Year, black- and white-colored clothing should especially be avoided. For the Chinese, these are often colors associated with mourning or death.

Modern Times

Today, while many of these ancient customs are still vigorously practiced, some things have changed. One change was that Chinese New Year was renamed and became synonymous with “Spring Festival.” Another is that the festival has shortened into a week-long holiday. The highlight is the sumptuous New Year’s Eve feast with family and friends – which has always been the most important day of the season. Traditional foods are important to have on the table, as each have symbolic meaning. This includes fish (abundance), a communal hotpot (prosperity), noodles (longevity) , and savory dumplings (wealth). Some now choose modern substitutes – sushi, seaweed salad, and ramen – that give a nod to tradition, but may be easier to find in cities like New York or Los Angeles.

lanternsThe 15th day traditionally marks the end of Chinese New Year festivities and is known as either the Lantern Festival or “Yuanxiao” Festival. On this day, Chinese eat sweet rice dumplings and families walk in the evening with candle-lit lanterns. In Hong Kong, this day is also celebrated like Valentine’s Day – a time for singles seeking romance.

Business Impact?

Everyone’s Out: The Chinese New Year festival is the longest public holiday in China. During this period, many companies shut down completely. The more traditional the business (such as manufacturing), the more likely everyone will be out on holiday. In some businesses (such as ecommerce), baseline operations may be maintained at very limited capacity.

This year, most Chinese will be completely off from work starting Feb 18 (New Year’s Eve) and return to work on either Tuesday, Feb 24 (the 6th day of the festival) or Thursday, Feb 26 (the 8th day of the festival). Officially only the first three days of Chinese New Year (February 19–21, 2015) are statutory holidays.

Travel is Crazy: Due to the custom of getting together for large family reunions, this is by far the busiest travel season in China. Trains and buses are fully packed. Flight tickets are hard to get. Imagine hundreds of millions of people migrating (east) from coastal cities to their home villages inland. It’s a remarkable spectacle best viewed on television or online, not in person.

Good for Business: It’s considered auspicious to kick off the next year with new business, as it heralds more good luck to come. Position your company to get a head start on the Year of the Ram.

It is believed that in this zodiac year, “Diligence applied to hard work ensures prosperity.” Whether your Asia partners re-open on the 6th or 8th lunar day of the new year, make it good day for business!

Planning Ahead

Aim to wrap up contracts and business deals before Chinese New Year, which will fall next year on Monday, February 8, 2016. Pay back any old debts, to clear the way for good luck ahead.

In the meantime, have a blessed and prosperous Year of the Ram!

Happy Chinese New Year of the Ram

Happy Chinese New Year of the Ram




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