Chinese New Year

Caithlin Ng 20 January 2017

For any Chinese community, Chinese New Year is one of the most important festivities each year. Much like New Year’s celebrations on the Gregorian calendar, it is a time to reunite with old friends and family, to share experiences from the past year, and to hope for an even better year in the future.

This year, the first day of Chinese New Year falls on the 28 January. The date of celebration varies from year to year (on the Gregorian calendar), and is based on the Chinese lunar calendar. Each year is associated with a corresponding Chinese zodiac sign, this year’s being the Rooster. The Rooster is an important zodiac as itsymbolises discipline and timeliness, since its call signifies the beginning of a new dawn for agricultural workers.

As with any other festival, Chinese New Year is entrenched in age-old rituals. For any adolescent, receiving ‘Lai See’ (Red Packets) is the highlight of the holiday; it is customary for children to pay their respects to married elders during this time of the year and, in exchange, receive decorated little red envelopes containing a sum of money. Traditionally, the Red Packets are meant to ward off a mythical ‘Nian’ monster, which is said to haunt villages every New Year, but for children and teenagers, it is seen more as an important supplementary source of income atop the meagre allowance received from our parents. But if you’re unlucky like me, and have to spend Chinese New Year abroad, then there goes hundreds of pounds worth of allowance.

It is also customary to decorate the house with Fai Chun, which are red banners with celebratory messages written on them. Popular phrases include Gung Hei Fat Choy (“Wishing you a prosperous New Year”) or Sun Tai Geen Hong (“Wishing you health and wellbeing”).

Spending Chinese New Year in Cambridge has other downsides too. You miss out on the chance to wine and dine with family and friends on the customary New Year’s Eve reunion dinner. The feast is comparable to the ones found on Christmas or Thanksgiving in Western culture, except we eat dumplings instead of turkey and sweet glutinous rice balls instead of mince pies.

Of course, the Chinese community is so big in Cambridge that you’re bound to be able to find some friends to celebrate the holidays with you. Even if you’re not Chinese, it might be fun to experience the festivities once with some friends familiar with the customs of Chinese New Year.