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Happy Chinese New Year 2013

Red Envelopes for Chinese New Year

It’s that wonderful time of year again — Chinese New Year 2013 is coming February 10!

Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is the centuries-old tradition celebrating the new year in the Chinese lunar calendar. It begins with the first day of the first month in this calendar, and continues until the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the holiday. With so many days involved, it’s easy to see why this is the longest holiday in Chinese culture.

Regional customs and traditions for Chinese New Year vary widely. For example, for my Taiwanese relatives and friends, it’s customary for grownups to give kids red envelopes with money during Chinese New Year, but when the children grow up, they must give red envelopes to their parents once they begin working. Since I moved to San Francisco, most Cantonese people have told me their tradition is different, as the younger generation doesn’t need to give red envelopes to the older generation until they get married. China is such a geographically large and culturally diverse country that it’s not surprising  that different regions have different holiday customs — in fact, these regions usually have completely different regional Chinese languages in addition to Mandarin!

That said, you may hear some common phrases or Chinese New Year greetings during this time:

• Xīnniánkuàilè is Happy New Year in Chinese for Mandarin speakers (Traditional Chinese: 新年快樂 / Simplified Chinese: 新年快乐)
• Gōngxǐfācái is Mandarin for “Congratulations and be prosperous” and is commonly said as a Chinese New Year greeting. (Traditional Chinese: 恭喜發財 / Simplified Chinese: 恭喜发财)
• Gong Hey Fat Choy is Cantonese for Gōngxǐfācái, has the same meaning, and is written the same way in Chinese characters.

If you want to get more advanced, there are many more common auspicious greetings and saying that you’ll often see written all over the place:

• 金玉滿堂 Jīnyùmǎntáng – “May your wealth [gold and jade] come to fill a hall”
• 大展鴻圖 Dàzhǎnhóngtú – “May you realize your ambitions”
• 迎春接福 Yíngchúnjiēfú – “Greet the New Year and encounter happiness”
• 萬事如意 Wànshìrúyì – “May all your wishes be fulfilled”
• 吉慶有餘 Jíqìngyǒuyú – “May your happiness be without limit”
• 竹報平安 Zhúbàopíng’ān – “May you hear [in a letter] that all is well”
• 一本萬利 Yīběnwànlì – “May a small investment bring ten-thousandfold profits”
• 福壽雙全 Fúshòushuāngquán – “May your happiness and longevity be complete”
• 招財進寶 Zhāocáijìnbǎo – “When wealth is acquired, precious objects follow”

Each day in Chinese New Year has a different purpose, and there are many different nuances. The level of detail is pretty extensive, so feel free to read more about it at Wikipedia.

Aside from China, Chinese New Year is also celebrated in countries and territories with significant populations of Chinese people, including Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Macau, Indonesia, and other places.

How will you celebrate?

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