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The newbie’s guide to Lunar New Year

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This year’s presiding zodiac animal, the Dragon, is considered to be a symbol of luck in Chinese cultureEvery country has its own take on Chinese New Year, although they  typically adhere to the same basic customs, such as wearing and decorating with the colour red.

Out goes the Rabbit, in comes the Dragon. On 23 January, many people around the world will be celebrating the year of the Dragon at the start of the Lunar New Year (LNY).

Dragon statue

Photo credit: Chaiwat

The festival is celebrated throughout South East Asia, with Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, China and Vietnam marking the occasion with up to four days of public holidays. In Thailand, Cambodia and Japan, where it is not a public holiday, LNY is still considered a major festival. Vietnam celebrates its own version, called Tet Nguyen Dan.

Considered one of the most important dates on the lunar calendar, festival celebrations last for 15 days. On the streets, expect to see LNY street markets, lion dance performances, displays and prayers at Chinese temples and, if legal in the country, firecrackers being set off by celebrants.

Chinatown

Photo credit: pbhomepage

Before the festival, it is common practice to perform a thorough spring cleaning to clear out any remaining bad luck from the preceding year; before holding a reunion dinner on the eve of LNY. As its name implies, all members of the family are expected to gather together for this dinner.

Encouraging luck and prosperity in love, life and wealth for the coming year is a major theme in the customs of the LNY. Essential foods served during this period includes fish, a hair-like algae called, “Fa Cai” and a sticky cake called “Nian Gao”, all of which are homophones or allusions to prosperity in the coming year.

In our modern global village, it is not uncommon today for Chinese people to invite non-Chinese friends for home visits, usually from the second day onwards. If this is your first time  celebrating the Lunar New Year, here are some common customs practiced by visitors during this period:

– Wear red when visiting homes. Red is a lucky colour for the Chinese, and is believed to scare away evil spirits and bad fortune. Other bright, vibrant colours are also acceptable. Tip:  The Electrolux Vapour Action and Time Manager range of washers can help preserve and freshen clothes with their customised wash programmes and gentle washing action. The Vapour Action washer is great at quickly refreshing your clothes and saves time on ironing amid all the busy preparations.

– Do avoid wearing black to homes, as it is considered an unlucky colour. While many younger Chinese no longer mind, more traditional, older Chinese in their household may take exception.

– Bring two mandarin oranges or tangerines to give to your hosts when visiting homes. The oranges, called “Kam” in Cantonese, are homophones for gold and thus good luck. They are given in pairs because even numbers are considered lucky. Avoid giving anything in fours, however, as the number four is a homophone for death.

– Red packets (Ang Pao) filled with money are given to the young and those who are still single for luck. Non-Chinese guests are not expected to give them out. If you do, however, follow the above rule and give amounts in even numbers except for amounts with the number four. Eight is considered the luckiest number as again, it is a homophone for prosperity.

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