Dr Penny Ding, UK Deputy Director of the Confucius Institute, explains traditions surrounding Chinese New Year, and the significance of the Year of the Tiger.
What does Chinese New Year mean for Chinese people? Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival or Lunar New Year, is the most important celebration in the traditional Chinese calendar. Chinese New Year is celebrated in China, across East and South East Asia, and in Chinese diaspora communities around the world. It is a time of renewal where people reunite with their families, bidding farewell to the old and ushering in the new.
What does Chinese New Year mean for Chinese people?
Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival or Lunar New Year, is the most important celebration in the traditional Chinese calendar. Chinese New Year is celebrated in China, across East and South East Asia, and in Chinese diaspora communities around the world. It is a time of renewal where people reunite with their families, bidding farewell to the old and ushering in the new.
Traditionally, celebrations start one week before the Chinese New Year on 23rd of December in the Lunar Calendar, based on the monthly moon cycle, just as Easter celebrations in the UK are on a different date each year in the Gregorian calendar, Spring Festival is on a different date in January or February. This year Chinese New Year falls on the Tuesday 1st February.
The most important tradition during Chinese Spring Festival is the New Year’s Eve family banquet (年夜饭 nian ye fan). On this day, the Chinese holiday starts and people who work or study outside their home city return home to enjoy this traditional meal with their parents, grandparents and other family members. In the north of China, the meal always finishes with servings of Chinese dumplings (饺子jiaozi) which signify family reunion. As dumplings are shaped like old Chinese gold ingots, they also represent a family’s wishes for prosperity and good fortune in the coming new year. On New Year’s Eve the family will take off the old Spring Festival decoration on their door and put up a new Spring Festival decoration displaying the character ‘福’ (fu) meaning ‘good luck’. This decoration is placed on the front door of the family home, and ensures good luck and fortune will flow through the household throughout the year.
On Chinese New Year’s Day, it is a tradition that everyone wears new clothes and spends time visiting friends, family and neighbours in the area they live. Many families leave their doors and gates open to welcome guests. The older generations give red envelopes containing money (hong bao) to children. These small gifts are intended to ward off old age (压岁钱ya sui qian) and symbolise the hopes of the older generation that the children will enjoy prosperity, health and happiness.
Chinese New Year is celebrated for over three weeks culminating on Red Lantern Day (元宵节 yuan xiao jie) which falls on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year. Red Lantern Day is the final Chinese New Year celebration where streets are decorated with bright, shining red lanterns. People of all ages go out on the street to watch floats, stilt walkers, dragon and lion dance performances and to view the elaborate displays of lanterns which adorn the streets where they live.
Why is the Year of the Tiger so special?
2022 is the Year of the Water Tiger. The Water Tiger year comes every 60 years, with the last Year of the Water Tiger taking place in 1962. The tiger is considered the king of all the animals in the Chinese zodiac, and finished 3rd in the mythical race behind the Rat and the Ox (see my blog entitled Celebrating Chinese New Year of the Gold Ox published in 2021). People born in the year of the Tiger are considered to be competitive, confident and full of vitality, yet also very candid and kind.
In Chinese culture, the tiger is regarded as a very lucky animal because of its prowess, bravery, charm and beauty. The word for tiger in Chinese (虎hu) is homophonic with (福 fú – good luck) and (富fù – prosperity, wealth), meaning the tiger symbolizes luck, prosperity and nobility. Young children wear tiger head shoes and tiger hat, and tiger gloves. There are also tiger shaped pillows for young babies.
In the Chinese language, there are also many idioms which include the character Hu(虎). For example, 虎头虎脑 (hǔ tóu hǔ nǎo), literally means, ‘tiger head, tiger brain,’ and describes a child (often a boy) who is healthy and adorable. 生龙活虎（Shēnglónghuóhǔ）literally means, ‘energetic dragon and lively tiger,’ and describes a person full of life and energy. 如虎添翼 （Rúhǔtiānyì）literally means, ‘giving wings to a tiger,’ refers to giving someone already strong, added strength and advantage. I wish for all of you to achieve your goals like a tiger with wings in the Year of the Tiger.
The University of Liverpool Confucius Institute (LCI) wish all our colleagues, friends, students, and those in our wider communities of Liverpool, the Merseyside Region and beyond, a very happy, healthy and safe Chinese New Year of the Water Tiger. May it bring you the best of luck, good health, good fortune and prosperity. 虎年大吉，万事如意！