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Chinese New Year Practices

Red packets

     Traditionally, Red envelopes or red packets (Mandarin: 'hong bao' (紅包);(Cantonese: lai shi or lai see) (利是, 利市 or 利事); Hokkien: 'ang pow' (POJ: ang-pau); Hakka: 'fung bao'; are passed out during the Chinese New Year's celebrations, from married couples or the elderly to unmarried juniors. It is common for adults to give red packets to children. Red packets are also known as 壓歲錢 (Ya Sui Qian), which literally means to suppress the age. There is also another saying that the term was evolved from 壓祟錢, literally, meaning to put down the evil spirit during this period.

     Red packets always contain money, usually varying from a couple of dollars to several hundred. The amount of money in the red packets should be of even numbers, as odd numbers are associated with cash given during funerals. However, the number 4 is considered bad luck, because the word for four is a homophone for death, money in the red envelopes never adds up to $4. However, the number 8 is considered lucky (for its homophone for "wealth"), and $8 is commonly found in the red envelopes. Sometimes chocolate coins are found in the red packets.


     Bamboo stems filled with gunpowder that were burnt to create small explosions were once used in ancient China to drive away evil spirits. In modern times, this method has eventually evolved into the use of firecrackers during the festive season. Firecrackers are usually strung on a long fused string so it can be hung down. Each firecracker is rolled up in red papers, as red is auspicious, with gunpowders in its core. Once ignited, the firecracker lets out a loud popping noise and as they are usually strung together by the hundreds, the firecrackers are known for its deafening explosions that it is thought to scare away evil spirits. See also Myths above. The burning of firecrackers also signifies a joyful time of year and has become an integral aspect of Chinese New Year celebrations.

Shou Sui

     Shou Sui(Traditional Chinese:守歲)occurs when members of the family gather around throughout the night after the reunion dinner and reminisce about the year that has passed while welcoming the year that has arrived. Some believe that children who Shou Sui will increase the longevity of the parents. 一夜連雙歲,五更分二年 means that the night of New Year's eve (which is also the morning of the first day of the New Year) is a night that links two years. 五更 (Wu Geng – the double hour from 0300 to 0500) is the time that separates the two years.

Congratulations and greetings

     During Chinese new year, people usually congratulate each other by saying 恭喜發財 ( Maderin: Gong Xi Fa Cai; Cantonese: Kung Hei Fat Choi; Hokkien: Keong hee huat chye; POJ: Kiong-hi hoat-chai; Hakka: Kung hei fat choi) , which loosely translates to "Congratulations and be prosperous". Often assumed to be synonymous with "Happy new year", its usage dates back several centuries. While the first two words of this phrase had a much longer historical significance (legend has it that the congratulatory messages were traded for surviving the ravaging beast of Nian, although in practical terms it may also involve surviving the harsh winter conditions), the last two words were added later as ideas of capitalism and consumerism became more significant in Chinese societies around the world. The saying is now commonly heard in English speaking communities for greetings during Chinese New Year in parts of the world where there is a sizable Chinese-speaking community, including overseas Chinese communities that have been resident for several generations, relatively recent immigrants from Greater China, and those who are transit migrants (particularly students).

     Numerous other greetings exist, some of which may be exclaimed out loud to no one in particular in specific situations. For example, as breaking objects during the new year is considered inauspicious, one may then say 歲歲平安 (Sui Sui Ping An) immediately, which means everlasting peace year after year. 歲 (Sui, meaning "age") is homophonous with 碎 (meaning "shatter"), in demonstration of the Chinese love for wordplay in auspicious phrases. Similarly, 年年有餘 (Niannian youyu), a wish for surpluses and bountiful harvests every year, plays on the word yu to also refer to 魚 (meaning fish), making it a catch phrase for fish-based Chinese new year dishes and for paintings or graphics of fish that are hung on walls or presented as gifts.