Home Editor's Pick Fascinating Rituals and Customs Surrounding Chinese New Year

Fascinating Rituals and Customs Surrounding Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is a traditional festival with a long history. It’s the most important holiday for Chinese people, and thus much attention has been paid to it since ancient times. Its preparation starts seven days before New Year’s Eve, from the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month. The activities and customs during the festival are listed according to the lunar calendar.

According to traditional customs, there are specific foods to prepare and rituals to perform on each day leading up to the Chinese New Year. We’ve put together a quick fact list of what to do every day before the Festival begins.

This year is 2021 — the Year of the Metal Ox. The Chinese New Year starts on the 12th of February. So let’s talk about how to prepare for the Chinese New Year. This is how the Chinese end the old year and bring in the New Year. These customs begin on the 23rd lunar day, which is February 4, 2021.

23rd Lunar Day

The family burns a paper effigy of the Kitchen God to send him to Heaven and report to the Jade Emperor whether the family members were naughty or nice.

The Kitchen God protects the household and oversees its moral health. (Image: Kanzhongguo)

24th Lunar Day

This is the day to begin cleaning before the end of the year, starting with the house. The word ‘dust’ in Chinese is a homophone for ‘old.’ The act of cleaning the house represents sweeping away bad luck from the past year, allowing for a new start.

chinese new year 24 december illustration of people cleaning the house
Cleaning the house to sweep out any misfortune or bad luck. (Image: Kanzhongguo)

25th Lunar Day

The Jade Emperor comes down to the human world and visits households.

chinese new year illustration jade emperor entering a household
Jade Emperor confirms if you were naughty or nice. (Image: Kanzhongguo)

26th Lunar Day

Prepare any meat for the New Year by visiting your local butcher or grocery store. There are 15 days worth of celebrating, so lots of food and vegetables are needed. In the past, people might take their ox, pig, or sheep to the butcher to slaughter on this day.

Chinese New Year illustration preparing meat for the new year pig being slaughtered by butcher pre day 26
In the past, people only enjoyed meat during festivals because of poverty. (Image: Kanzhongguo)

27th Lunar Day

It’s the day to make chicken dishes and go shopping for goods to prepare for the New Year.

chicken being butchered illustration pre-chinese new year custom
The Chinese word for ‘chicken’ shares the same pronunciation as the word ‘lucky’. (Image: Kanzhongguo)

28th Lunar Day

Make assorted cakes and steamed dumplings, write spring couplets, and make Fu Character and Chinese paper cuttings to decorate the home and keep away evil spirits.

chinese paper cutting around door in illustration man in ancient chinese clothing look on
Chinese paper-cutting, or jianzhi (剪紙), is a folk art that originated in China around the sixth century A.D. (Image: Kanzhongguo)

29th Lunar Day

This is the day for sweeping the ancestral shrines to show our respect for Buddhas and Gods.

illustration incense burning, fruit offering and bowing to an ancestral shrine for pre chinese new year ritual
Families also might leave offerings of fruit and burn incense to pay homage. (Image: Kanzhongguo)

New Year’s Eve 30th Lunar Day

Depending on the moon cycle, New Year’s Eve either lands on the 29th or 30th of the 12th lunar month. Regardless, this day is also known as the 30th of the year.

This is the most important day for the whole family. Traditionally, people travel home for a family reunion, and dinner is a very formal occasion. people eat dumplings and have fish for dinner, which is supposed to bring good fortune and an overabundance of money for the new year. Both young and old stay up late to let off firecrackers and welcome in the New Year.

Chinese New Year is the biggest annual celebration. A hive of festivities take place during this period — parades and fireworks to traditional dragon dances and holidays starting on the first day of New Year.

chinese new year illustration lunar day 30 old and young stay up to celebrate
The young and old stay up late to welcome in the New Year. (Image: Kanzhongguo)

New Year’s Day: Day 1

The first thing to do on the morning of New Year’s Day is to set off firecrackers to drive away evil spirits. Afterward, the Chinese will have the first meal of the year, which is as important as the reunion dinner for most Chinese people.

Most people choose to eat dumplings, hoping to have good fortune in the New Year, because a dumpling’s shape is similar to gold ingots, which was the currency used in ancient times. People in South China prefer to eat rice cakes, because rice cakes are a symbol of wealth.

Young people visit their elders, and in return, elders give them red envelopes with money inside for good luck. Traditionally, children would kneel to receive their red envelopes from their elders. And it was a custom to give and receive using both hands and never open the envelope in front of the gift giver.

illustration chinese new year day one rooster crows in foreground red envelopes hung on string in the background as two people smile and carry them
The first thing to do on the morning of New Year’s Day is to set off firecrackers to drive away evil spirits. (Image: Kanzhongguo)

Day 2

It’s the time for married women to visit their birth parents. In ancient times in China, women usually didn’t visit their birth parents’ places much once they got married. Though nowadays women can do that at any time, this custom, to visit birth parents on Jan 2, remains.

chinese new year day 2 family play with dog illustration
(Image: Kanzhongguo)

Day 3

This day is also called Goat Day, a day on which people cannot kill sheep or goats. In southern China, people think quarrels can easily happen on this day, so they don’t visit each other.

chinese new year day 3 illustration pig being let inside the house
(Image: Kanzhongguo)

Day 4

It’s the day to welcome the Kitchen God back.

chinese new year day 4 illustration goats in background kids play with firecracker
This day is also called Goat Day, a day on which people cannot kill sheep or goats. (Image: Kanzhongguo)

Day 5

People welcome the God of Wealth from all directions and routes. It’s a custom to eat dumplings on this day and set off firecrackers.

chinese new year day 5 illustration man with ox and two children playing
(Image: Kanzhongguo)

Day 6

People drink and get soaked in holiday spirit.

chinese new year day 6 illustration man with horse and 2 children in the background with lantern
(Image: Kanzhongguo)

Day 7

Happy birthday to all people! It’s said that Chinese people were made on this day, so everyone celebrates this day as their birthday.

chinese new year day 7 children looking up on as elder on bed tells a story
Happy birthday to all people! (Image: Kanzhongguo)

Day 8

People free birds and fish to bring blessings.

chinese new year day 8 illustration  men throwing fish in river and releasing birds on bridge
People free birds and fish to bring blessings. (Image: Kanzhongguo)

Day 9

It’s the birthday of the Jade Emperor. People have gatherings and play operas to celebrate in his honor.

chinese new year day 9 illustration visiting the opera
It’s the birthday of the Jade Emperor. (Image: Kanzhongguo)

Day 10

It’s the day of Earth, symbolized by rocks. Any handling of rock products is forbidden on the day.

chinese new year day 10 illustration people burins incense kid pulling parent away
Any handling of rock products is forbidden on the day. (Image: Kanzhongguo)

Day 11

It’s Sons-in-Law Day. Fathers-in-law treat sons-in-law with leftovers from Jan 9th.

chinese new year day 11 illustration worship at an altar
(Image: Kanzhongguo)

Day 12

People begin to set up stalls and awnings in preparation for the Lantern Festival.

chinese new year day 12 making lanterns
People begin to set up stalls and awnings in preparation for the Lantern Festival. (Image: Kanzhongguo)

Day 13

People in ancient times lit fires underneath stoves to get ready for the Lantern Festival.

chinese new year day 13 illustration lighting fire for lanterns
People in ancient times lit fires underneath stoves to get ready for the Lantern Festival. (Image: Kanzhongguo)

Day 14

It’s the birthday of the Goddess of Birth.

Chinese new year illustration day 14 birthday of the goddess of birth
It’s the birthday of the Goddess of Birth. (Image: Kanzhongguo)

Day 15

People celebrate the Lantern Festival today! New Year holidays are officially over.

chinese new year day 15 illustration lantern festival
People celebrate the Lantern Festival today! New Year holidays are officially over. (Image: Kanzhongguo)

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  • Emma Lu is an author who specializes in Cultural and Historical myths and stories.

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