Chinese New Year Customs and Traditions

Chinese New Year Customs and Traditions

Gong Xi Fa Cai is a common greeting you will hear during Chinese New Year. The Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is a major holiday and a festive occasion celebrated in places with significant Chinese populations. This year, Chinese New Year falls on January 28.

In the Philippines, the Chinese New Year is much anticipated by the Filipino-Chinese communities.  Many colorful customs and traditions are observed during this time, which are similar to those practiced in mainland China. Some of the more popular ones are the following:

CLEANING THE HOUSE

Before the Chinese New Year celebrations, people meticulously clean their homes. They scrub the walls, sweep the floor, change linens and dust the entire house. This is their way of showing respect to the family and their ancestors.

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PAYING OFF DEBTS

People also pay off all their financial obligations before the Chinese New Year. Carrying any burdens from the previous year is believed to bring bad luck, so people try to settle all their debts.

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GIVING RED ENVELOPES

Giving red envelopes or hongbao is also a custom observed during Chinese New Year. These red envelopes contain money and is commonly given to kids as Chinese New Year gifts. The color red is a symbol of happiness and blessings. Giving away red envelopes bestows good wishes and luck upon the receiver.

Photo credit: Brian Jeffery Beggerly -Flickr
Photo credit: Brian Jeffery Beggerly -Flickr

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HAVING NEW YEAR’S EVE DINNER WITH FAMILY

The Chinese New Year is also the time where families get together. People usually have New Year’s Eve dinner at home where fortune food like fish, dumplings, spring rolls and longevity noodles are served.

Alpha Flickr
Photo credit: Alpha- Flickr

EATING NIAN GAO OR TIKOY

Nian gao or Tikoy in the Philippines is a sweet delicacy prepared from glutinous rice that is traditionally eaten or given away during the Chinese New Year. Nian gao means “higher year.” When you give someone nian gao or tikoy, it means you are wishing that person prosperity in the coming year.

Guangdong_Nian_cake

PERFORMING DRAGON DANCES

Dragon dances are likewise performed on the streets by people wearing colorful dragon costumes. A team of dancers carry the Chinese dragon on poles and mimics the movements of the dragon to the accompaniment of cymbals, drums and gongs. To the Chinese people, the dragon symbolizes power and prestige and is believed to bring good luck.

dragon-dance

SETTING OFF FIREWORKS

Photo credit: SebastienPoncet (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo credit: SebastienPoncet (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Chinese New Year celebration is not complete without fireworks. The Chinese believe that setting off fireworks when the clock strikes 12:00 on New Year’s Eve will drive away evil spirits and bring good fortune in the coming year.

52 Comments


  1. Thanks for sharing! As a Chinese myself I tend to forget some of the customs.

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  2. Loved to see that traditions are being kept well for CNY every year. It certainly brings back a lot of nostalgic memories for me on my end, Every year that we do the routine too and I have always looked forward to reunion dinners too.

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  3. Oh I didn’t realise that the Filipino-Chinese also greet Gong Xi Fa Cai, but then again, it is Mandarin, which is a universal language among the Chinese. It is heartening to see how culture and tradition are maintained wherever the Chinese may settle down in.

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  4. One of the tradition every new year that i never fail is to pay all debts, even utility bills, and its a very refreshing feeling throughout the year 🙂

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  5. Happy CNY to you. These are the chinese traditions and customs. Have been doing some of them all these years.

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  6. This post is interesting, now I know a lot more tradition about your culture! Hope you have a blast celebration! 😀

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  7. Such a joyous occasion CNY is! I just love the atmosphere everywhere during this period…and the long holidays!

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  8. Hi Claire! This is very informative. Though most of those traditions were already lived by my family since then. We have Chinese relatives and the tradition lives on every year! My favorite is the tikoy though and red envelopes of course! 🙂

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  9. Yeah.. have always heard about all these… and thanks for refreshing my memories…

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  10. I got a chance to read a lot about Chinese New Year today!.First of all wish you a Happy Chinese New Year. You have shared beautiful pictures and lot of new information. I have got know new culture & tradition 🙂

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  11. I lived in Singapore for more than 5 years and I witnessed all these traditions! Masaya pag madame kang red envelopes na natanggap! I also remember the fortune food, pataasan ng paghalo ng food cause it symbolizes more fortune pag mas mataas. 🙂

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  12. I did most of the things mentioned here… Happy Chinese New Year to you as well 🙂

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  13. There are few thing I love about CNY, even I’m a Malay.
    1. Holidays
    2. Ang pows
    3. Foods!
    4. Lion dance
    5. Fireworks!

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  14. Nice FYI. I have seen Dragon Dances around during CNY and they are so entertaining to watch.

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  15. Thanks for the fresh up write up about CNY customs and traditions, although we don’t usually follow this! But we need to bear in mind!

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  16. The celebration of Chinese new year is indeed colorful and very festive. From the brilliant colors and abundant food plus exquisite dragon dance, it surely is a merry celebration. We also enjoy tikoy every Chinese New Year and funny my boys got to Appreciate it too.

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  17. How about fruits? Is it a tradition to put 13 (tama ba?) kinds of fruits on the table too?

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  18. We honor these traditions as well. It gives me comfort to do so. It feels like you belong to something and you honor traditions, culture, and family.

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  19. oh, our tradition is to set off firecrackers instead of fireworks here in Singapore. But of course, due to its danger, firecrackers is now banned. We also have more of lion dance as compared to dragon dances too. I guess the tradition changes a little from area to area.
    and yes, nian gao (especially battered and fried) I love it so so so much!

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  20. Oh. It’s almimost like what people do duri g New Year’s eve or before. 🙂 The tikoy is the most anticipated food during this day. It has evolved to many different flavors now but I like the original dipped jn egg then fried. 🙂

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  21. I love nian gao all year round. Lol. 🙂 My family prepares it the old way, but it sounds unappetizing. It’s how our amah made it whe she was still alive. I love the lion dance and firecrackers too. 🙂 belated kiong hee!

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  22. I agree with what you listed here. My dad is 75% Chinese so we used to practice the Chinese traditions. During my childhood, I always looked forward to my ampao or hong pao. I think what could be added here is that there should be rounded fruits on the table.

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  23. Honestly I really look forward with dragon dance and tikoy, Last Chinese New Year, I was invited on one of the Chinese Community in town but wasn’t able to attend due to conflict schedule. Quite disappointing I was not able to come. I.could have experience their traditional way to celebrate it for the first time

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  24. Happy Gong Xi Fai! ;)) Our new year comes somewhere during end March or early April when we get new crops. However, around this time , we celebrate the end of winter and beginning of spring. Rice unites India and China as this cereal is used in many delicacies in India. We do not have dragons but we do fly kites during the middle of January. ;))

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  25. The Dragon dance is what I always witnessed during chinese new year, they say fortune and prosperity will come your way if you’re touched by the dragon.

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  26. I’m 1/4 Chinese but the only thing I did for Chinese New Year was watch a lion dance and opened a fortune cookie lol But we do these during calendar new year. 🙂

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  27. Hopefully, everyone can pay off their debt before the change of year 🙂 I really like dragon dance, it’s very entertaining and for me it gives off positive vibes. Good thing at exactly 12am on Jan 28, dragon dancers visited our office. They performed and gave away candies and coins 🙂

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  28. I love this blog! I love that I learned something different about the Chinese New Year because I’ve been wanting to take my kids to Chinatown to experience how it goes and the culture, but I’ve been discouraged many times and told there’s really nothing to see but the dragon dance. Now I know there’s more to it! Sana ganyan din ang custom natin Pinoys, to pay off our debts before the New Year, haha.

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  29. I’ve never really understood the appeal of tikoy, I cook it different ways but di lang talaga ganun kasarap for me. XD

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  30. My son’s been looking forward to CNY since last year because he’s been wanting to eat tikoy. Hahaha!

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  31. One thing I missed this CNY, though I am not a chinese, was eating Tikoy. I love eating it as merienda! 😀

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  32. Ang cool nmn pala! We are not chinese but we practice some of these traditions and ooohhh how I love tikoy!! D pwedeng d ako makakakain niaan

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  33. Because my father’s side of the family is part Chinese, I grew up with these customs. This year though we just stayed home because we have a new baby to take care of. But at least we still got to celebrate with tikoy. 🙂

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  34. My auntie who lives in HK said that every Chinese New Year, their neighbors in the condo they live in replaces most of their furniture and appliances. They throw the old ones. That’s how they clean their houses.

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  35. These customs and traditions make Chinese New Year even more exciting. I haven’t had tikoy yet because our Chinese friend forgot to give us our annual supply of this Chinese delicacy.

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  36. We’re not Chinese, so we don’t really celebrate this. It’s a good reminder though, to appreciate other cultures 🙂

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  37. I celebrated Chinese New Year in Binondo! It’s great to see the culture and flair of the Chinese. I especially liked they made corn-topped tikoy. It’s much like the Filipino maja blanca. It’s specially for the Year of the Rooster (as I guess they love to eat corn) 🙂

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  38. If I may also include it is also customary to clean up the house specifically throwing out useless and damaged stuff to give way for new things to come this new year. Wishing you the the best in the Fire Rooster Year!

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  39. These are all beautiful and lovely traditions and it isn’t surprising that some of these are ingrained in the Filipino culture. I do not have Chinese blood but I also make it a point to clean around the home and pay off debts before the new year to sort of have a fresh start for the next year! 🙂

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  40. I followed some of these tradition but not all the time, not much of a believer but you got nothing to lose, why not give them a try 😀

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  41. I am not Chinese. But my husband comes from a family with Chinese blood. I think his grandfather is pure Chinese. So, we do some of the celebrations you mentioned.

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  42. Wow I am missing my tikoy!! I used to look forward to Chinese New Year for those and the red envelope 😉 Now I am craving for some good Chinese food!

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  43. Am Malaysian Chinese & amazed reading this post from you 🙂 impressive our Chinese New Year celebration & tradition are similar with Filipino Chinese 🙂 I love Tikoy! cheers, SiennyLovesDrawing

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  44. One thing I look forward to every CNY is to eat nian gao or tikoy, I’m not Chinese but it’s always interesting to witness how they celebrate CNY.

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