Chinese New Year 2020

Updated: Apr 29, 2020

Friends, in the few short weeks since I wrote this post, the Wuhan coronavirus has become a serious threat to our employees, friends, and partners in China. Please know that we hold you all in our hearts and send our sincere wishes for your health and safety. – Mike

As most of you know, Idea Planet has a wonderful team in our Shenzhen, China office. In fact, we have 15 very talented experts in engineering, manufacturing, quality assurance, compliance, product management, and logistics. So, our company is naturally immersed in Chinese culture and tradition. One of their most celebrated holidays is Chinese New Year which, not coincidently, is happening right now, as this blog is posted.

Rooted in thousands of years of history, Chinese New Year is a wonderful time of year that is deeply rooted in history, folklore and tradition with the primary focus on family (isn’t that great?). Businesses and factories close so people can return home to celebrate amongst generations of relatives. The festivities and food are amazing. I find the rich, cultural traditions fascinating, so I thought I’d share them with you in this month’s blog.

Year of the What?

Let’s begin by backing up a little. Legend has it that in ancient times, Buddha asked all of the animals to meet him on the Chinese New Year. Since only 12 animals came, Buddha named a year after each one. Thus, the Chinese zodiac is a repeating cycle of 12 years, with each year represented by an animal and its reputed characteristics. These 12 horoscope animals are, in order: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig.

The Chinese believe that each of these zodiac animals have lucky connotations, therefore people will exhibit personality traits of the animal representing the year in which they were born. For instance, I was born in the Year of the Ox which means that I have strong tendencies to be Diligent, Dependable, Strong, and Determined. Ha! I’d say that pretty much describes me!

Check out this chart to see what Chinese zodiac animal you are:

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail on the Chinese zodiac, but if you’re interested, you can read more on this site, where I got the above info:

The key takeaway, here, is that 2020 is the Year of the Rat!

Now, let’s Celebrate Chinese New Year like a local!

Celebrations & Traditions

The timing of CNY is based on the lunar calendar (the second new moon after the winter solstice), so it is slightly different each year. In 2020, it actually falls on January 25th. Not only is it the most important Chinese holiday, but it’s also the longest, with festivities running from January 17th through February 8th. Let’s take a quick look at what goes on each day:

  • Jan. 17 - Little Year

  • Jan. 24 - New Year's Eve

  • Jan. 25 - CNY / Spring Festival

  • Jan. 26 - To the In-Law's

  • Jan. 27 - Day of the Rat

  • Jan. 28 - Day of the Sheep

  • Jan. 29 - Break Five

  • Jan. 30 - Day of the Horse

  • Jan. 31 - Day of the Human

  • Feb. 1- Day of the Millet

  • Feb. 2- Providence Health

  • Feb. 3 - Stone Festival

  • Feb. 4 - Son-in-Law Day

  • Feb. 5-7 - Lantern Festival Preparations

  • Feb. 8 - Lantern Festival

January 17 – Little Year

Also known as XiaoNian, this day is special because it marks the beginning of Chinese New Year preparation. Most people start cleaning their homes (to sweep away bad luck), shopping for gifts, new clothes (to represent a new beginning) and decorations, and stockpiling food since shops will be closed. Sugar melons, also known as Stove Candy, are a staple on this day. They’re made of malt and according to legend, were “sacrificed” to the Kitchen God in an effort to flatter him, so he would not say bad things about your family to the Jade Emperor (sounds like a bad dude with a sweet tooth!). After this sacrifice, ancestors are worshipped by the whole family.

Red (the luckiest color in China) decorations are put up at this time, like the traditional Spring Couplet, which is hung outside the front door and in important rooms of the home. These Couplets depict of a pair of poetry lines which represent peoples’ excitement and wishes for a better life in the coming new year. Lighted red lanterns also create a festive atmosphere. If you happen to be in China right now, you’ll likely also see decorations adorned with rats!

January 24 – New Year’s Eve

The significance of the family is important in all Chinese New Year celebrations. Because it’s a time for families to be together, people are expected to return home (near or far) to celebrate the festival with their relatives. The “reunion dinner” held on New Year’s Eve is believed to be the most important meal of the year, and families will often leave an empty spot for anyone unable to attend. Meals are homemade and feature many traditional dishes, one of which is the very delightful Chinese dumpling, or Jiaozi.

Families stay up late to welcome the new year at midnight and watch the Spring Festival Gala on CCTV – one of the most viewed shows in China (reminds me of growing up watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV). People also reach out to friends on WeChat to send digital “red envelope” well wishes (more on red envelopes momentarily).

Setting off fireworks at midnight is a major custom based on traditional folklore. As the myth goes, a monster called Nian would come out on New Year’s Eve to eat villagers and destroy their houses. However, he was thwarted with burning dry bamboo that gave off a bright light and explosive popping sounds, scaring him away. That led to the NYE tradition of setting off firecrackers to scare away evil and bring good luck, which still remains today.

January 25 – Chinese New Year

CNY, aka Spring Festival, is a day of visiting the elders (on the husband’s side) in the family and bringing gifts. Grandparents then present the children with red envelopes (hóngbāo) that contain money. To receive their red envelopes, children perform three “kowtows” whereby they kneel and rest their head between their outstretched hands. Red envelopes are always given and received with both hands and are never opened in the presence of the giver.

Interestingly, the significance of these red envelopes is actually the red paper, not the money inside. The red symbolizes good luck and prosperity – so wrapping money in red envelopes is expected to bestow more happiness and blessings on the receivers. Also, the cash should be new, crisp bills, and the amount should never include a four, because that word in Mandarin sounds similar to their word for death (yikes!).

BTW, you’re not allowed to clean your home on this day, or you might “sweep away” all your good luck (I might keep this practice all year!).

January 26 – To The In-Laws

Today is the day that married women bring their husbands home to visit her parents. Typically, she offers a simple bag of crackers and candies as a gift to her mother, which symbolizes the notion that “it’s the thought that counts” as well as her continued longing for her hometown. Lunch is eaten together, and the daughter returns back to her married home before dinner.