Chinese New Year’s Eve Traditions

Family at Chinese New Year's Eve

Chinese New Year is famous worldwide, but Chinese New Year’s Eve, or Lunar New Year’s Eve (大年夜) is just as important, if not more, in practising customs and abiding by traditions to welcome the new year.

Putting up spring couplets

Spring Couplets are pairs of vertical red paper strips, inscribed with poetry written in black or gold ink, which are fixed on either side of a house’s front door. They are accompanied by a four-character horizontal scroll which is fixed above the doorframe, so the three strips together form an archway around the entrance to the home.

The couplet can vary in content and style but normally expresses gratitude or a wish for something, such as conveying best wishes for the coming year. The idea originated in the Five Dynasties (907-960) when it was customary to hang peach wood charms at the entrance to the home to drive away evil spirits. Now, the couplets are normally passed down through generations. One example is as follows:

路遥知马力,日久见人心 (Lù yáo zhī mǎlì; rì jiǔ jiàn rénxīn)

Distance tests a horse’s strength; time reveals a person’s heart.

Giving hóngbāo to children in the family

On Chinese New Year’s Eve, it’s traditional to give red envelopes (紅包, or hóngbāo) to the children in the family. The money-filled envelope, combined with the colour red, symbolises good luck and prosperity.

There are certain customs that should be abided by when giving hóngbāo: firstly, only brand new notes should be used and second, the amount should never contain the number 4 as the pronunciation in Chinese sounds like the word for death. Also of importance is giving and receiving the envelope with both hands and, traditionally, children will kneel to receive it from older family members.

New Year Reunion Dinner

Chinese New Year’s Eve is an opportunity for families to get together and enjoy a magnificent feast known as the Reunion Dinner. Chinese culture places significant emphasis on family relations, with younger relatives expected to care for their elders.

This occasion provides further opportunity for families of multiple generations to spend time together, with the younger members of the family often travelling back to their hometown and the house of their ancestors. The dinner normally will begin before sunset and can continue throughout the entire evening.

Watching the CCTV New Year’s Gala

The CCTV (China Central Television) New Year’s Gala, known locally as ‘Chunwan’, is a variety entertainment show which has been broadcast since 1983. It is traditional in Chinese culture for families to watch the gala together after finishing the Reunion Dinner.

The selected performances are chosen to reflect the best of Chinese art and culture, including magic shows, pop music, traditional opera, dancing and martial arts. It is the most-watched entertainment show in the world – in 2018, over one billion viewers tuned in.

Staying up to watch the midnight fireworks

Fireworks are set off across China as the clock strikes midnight, including smaller displays in family gardens and high-scale performances in public locations. While fireworks in western culture are set off on New Year’s Eve as a cause for celebration, the custom in China is to use the flash and sound of firecrackers to drive away bad spirits ahead of the new year. In recent years, however, there have been fewer local fireworks due to building concerns about air pollution, so most people now watch the large display performances instead of holding their own.

Chinese New Year Fireworks