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5 Simple Things You Can Do To Participate in Chinese New Year (and Instantly up Your Street Cred with Your Chinese Friends)

Posted on 19 February 2015

The year of ram/goat/sheep arrives on Thursday, February 19 this year. Although Chinese New Year is huge in China and Chinese communities all over the world, it is not a public holiday in the United States. It is kind of like Hanukah – people know the celebration exists, and it lasts for multiple days. But unless you are one of the tribe, you don’t usually remember it is happening. And the sad thing is you don’t get to take the day(s) off to spend time with your family.

The holiday can last for as long as 10 days in China depending on the region. It is a time for family and friends to get together, catch up, and eat a lot! By I lot, I am not kidding. It really is A LOT! Think having Thanksgiving meals 3 times a day for 5-10 days. Since we don’t have the luxury here to celebrate for 10 days as they do in China, you will get so much respect from your Chinese fellows or families if you celebrate with them a little.

A lot of people want to participate but are not sure where to start. Here are 5 simple things you can do. If you are Chinese or already know these cultural acts, share them with those you think can “benefit” from it.

1. Greet with These Chinese Expressions

This task may seem like a simple act but it says a lot. It shows that you are enthusiastic and that you recognize it is one of the most important traditions to them. So how do you greet them? Here are some simple phrases you can use. They are all in four characters and you can see them in Chinese New Year decors. You can also include them in emails. 

  • Say “Gung Hay Fat Choi”, which roughly means “wishing you wealth and prosperity.” It is a phrase that everyone says first to each other on the day of Chinese New Year. Hold your fists together and wave them up and down while you say it.
  • There are many other phrases that we use to greet each other in Chinese New Year. Here are a few common ones you can use. Both Cantonese (C) and Mandarin (M) pronunciations are provided.

As Healthy as Dragons and Horses (龍馬精神)

    • Long Ma Jing Sun (C)
    • Lóng Mǎ Jīng Shén (M)
    Lots of Growth in (Your) Business (生意興隆)
      • Sung Yi Heng Long (C)
      • Shēng Yì Xīng Lóng (M)

          Smooth sailing in everything (萬事如意)

            • Man Si Yu Yi (C)
            • Wàn Shì Rú Yì (M)

            Whatever your wishes are, they will come true (心想事成)

              • Sum Suong Si Sing (C)
              • Xīn Xiǎng Shì Chéng (M) 

            2. Have a Group Lunch or Dinner

              Since the tradition in Chinese New Year is to get together with family and eat, suggesting a meal together shows that you care about them like they are your family. In China, companies actually treat their employees to pre-Chinese New Year dinner the week or so before the holiday begins. We don’t really do that here in the United States unless you work for a Chinese company. So if you are a manager or an employer, this is a great gesture. Just make sure that you do go to a Chinese restaurant for the gathering. Book the place ahead of time. If you don’t know where to book, just ask your fellow Chinese for suggestions. They will know for sure.


              3. Give out Red Pocket Money

                A lot of people have seen or known what red pocket money is. It is money (usually paper notes) in a red envelops given out by married couples to children and people who are not married.

                In business, the big boss usually gives out red pocket money to their employees. Some times you will even see restaurant patrons give them out to restaurant staff who work extra hard during the holiday to sever them. People also prepare these envelopes with different designs as a way to tag the different denominations inside the envelopes.

                So, at your own discretion, you can always show that you know the culture well by giving out this “most-wanted” Chinese New Year” gift.


                4. Give out Chinese New Year Gifts

                  If you are not comfortable with the idea of giving money (I know it can be weird to some people), you can opt for giving simple gifts. The common ones are box-set candies, cookies, and chocolate wrapped in red gift-wraps. If you work in an office, you can always have it shared amongst your co-workers and show off a little.

                  5. Let Them Leave Work Early

                    This applies mostly for employers. Since a lot of Chinese family will have dinner gathering, it will get you a lot of respects if you let your Chinese employees leave a little bit earlier the first day of Chinese New Year so they can get their dinner party started early. They will for sure thank you for the rest of the year.

                    That's it. These are very simple acts that you can take this Chinese New Year to show that your Chinese friends, co-worker or family that you care. Happy Year of the Ram/Goat/Sheep to you all.

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