What is Chinese New Year | Chinese New Year 101

February 4, 2019

Chinese New Year is tomorrow and I was soo surprised by the amount of people who didn’t know what it even was! So I am giving you all the Chinese New Year 101 today…just in time for you to catch up and join in on the festivities that will be happening tomorrow.


Being Chinese, growing up, Chinese New Year was always a major deal compared to the classic Jan 1st New Year. My family didn’t really place that much emphasis on the Jan 1st New Year at all actually. But with the Chinese New Year? It was a totally different story – there was so much preparation and anticipation for date to appear. Chinese New Year, or technically called the Lunar New Year, starts when the new moon phase begins. Thus, the actual date changes every year! The celebrations for this time usually range for about 2 weeks. These two weeks are called the Spring Festival. The entire 2 or so weeks are filled with preparations and festivities.


Traditionally, people will wear the color red for good luck because it is believed that color scares away the bad spirits/demons. Fireworks and dragon dances will be seen throughout the streets since the loud noises will scare away evil spirits. There is an ancient legend that there used to be a monster named Nian (translate to “year” in Chinese) who would come o a village to scare the people, but a young boy scared him away by using fireworks. Thus, fireworks have become a huge tradition during this time of the year.

Adults/Elders will give red envelopes stuffed with money to children or those younger for the new year. This symbolizes that the elders will transfer their good luck, fortune and wisdom onto the next generation. This is my favorite part ahah. Nowadays, they can be given between co-workers, friends and employees.

And there will be an over-abundant amount of food. Eating well during this time is crucial since it “signifies” how the rest of your year will go: an abundance of good luck, food and wealth. Dumplings, rice cakes, glutinous rice balls and fish are must-have dishes during this period since they represent longevity and wealth.

This is also a time to pray to the Gods. Growing up, this would be mine and my siblings’ favorite things to do! Our parents would prepare a copious amount of food to offer to the Gods to ask for a good year ahead full of good fortune, business and wealth. Other than offering the Gods food, we burn symbolic paper “money” for the Gods to spend, spreading wealth everywhere!

Lastly, the weirdest of them all and a tradition I never understood is that on Chinese New Year, you age a year. Everyone has two ages: a real one which is calculated by your birthday and then you have a nominal one which is calculated by the new year. I am so used to giving my “real” age, but when I was in China, everyone gave their nominal age. Usually, you add one year to your real age to get your nominal age.

I used to love hearing all the myths associated to how these traditions came about and will definitely share those later this week with you all!


The Chinese calendar has 12 animals that go on rotation (every 12 years). The animals are: Rooster, Rat, Rabbit, Dragon, Pig, Dog, Ox, Monkey, Goat, Horse, Snake and Tiger. There is a designated animal for each year and as folklore tells it, whichever animal you “are” can tell a lot about your personality, compatibility with other people, career and overall future. 2019 is going to be the year of the Pig! Pigs embody characteristics such as optimism, enthusiasm and being hardworking!

I hope this brief run-through of what the Chinese New Year is has helped you learn more about it. This is such a joyful period and personally my favorite. Make sure you call your family tomorrow and wish them a good year of fortune and wealth!

A million and one thanks for reading – until my next lil’ thought then!

xx jen

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  • Reply Zorica February 4, 2019 at 4:26 pm

    Happy Chinese New Year.
    I just love reading about different traditions and cultures.

    • Reply lilthoughtswithjen February 7, 2019 at 8:20 pm

      thank you so much! love giving a little insight into my culture!
      xx jen

  • Reply Audrey | Brunch at Audrey's February 4, 2019 at 6:42 pm

    Happy Chinese New Year Jen! I definitely get what you mean when you talk about the preparation and anticipation for CNY; the energy is so palpable! I grew up in the States, and even when I moved to China, I went to an international school, so my upbringing was very westernised. I don’t feel totally in tune with my Taiwanese descent, so I’m always curious and excited to learn more traditions. I recently read a short story called “All the Flavours” in Ken Liu’s collection The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories that I think you might enjoy, especially for the New Year. It’s a wonderful story about Chinese immigrants in Idaho mining towns, and there’s a great mix of food imagery, old legends, and modern times, plus some stuff about Chinese New Year. // Loving the red glow from the lights in the background 🙂 -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey’s

    • Reply lilthoughtswithjen February 7, 2019 at 8:21 pm

      ooo thank you so much for suggesting that – I am going to read it as I am always interested in other people’s experiences growing up asian american like me! and happy chinese new year – wishing you all the wealth, fortune and happiness!
      xx jen

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