Fascinating Rituals and Customs Surrounding Chinese New Year

Chinese dragon with lanterns and smoke from firecrackers in the background

Find out what to do on each day leading up to Chinese New Year according to ancient Chinese traditions. (Image: via Dreamstime.com © Toa555)

Chinese New Year is a traditional festival with a long history. It’s the most important holiday for Chinese people, and thus much attention has been paid to it since ancient times. Its preparation starts seven days before Chinese New Year’s Eve, from the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month. The activities and customs during the festival are listed according to the lunar calendar.

According to traditional customs, there are specific foods to prepare and rituals to perform each day leading up to the Chinese New Year. We’ve put together a quick fact list of what to do every day before the Festival begins.

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This year is 2021 — the Year of the Metal Ox. The Chinese New Year starts on the 12th of February. So let’s talk about how to prepare for the Chinese New Year. This is how the Chinese end the old year and bring in the New Year. These customs begin on the 23rd lunar day, which is February 4, 2021.

23rd Lunar Day

The family burns a paper effigy of the Kitchen God to send him to Heaven and report to the Jade Emperor whether the family members were naughty or nice.

The Kitchen God protects the household and oversees its moral health.
The Kitchen God protects the household and oversees its moral health. (Image: via Kanzhongguo)

24th Lunar Day

This is the day to begin cleaning before the end of the year, starting with the house. The word ‘dust’ in Chinese is a homophone for ‘old.’ The act of cleaning the house represents sweeping away bad luck from the past year, allowing for a new start.

Cleaning the house to sweep out any misfortune or bad luck.
Cleaning the house to sweep out any misfortune or bad luck. (Image: via Kanzhongguo)

25th Lunar Day

The Jade Emperor comes down to the human world and visits households.

The Jade Emperor confirms if you were naughty or nice.
The Jade Emperor confirms if you were naughty or nice. (Image: via Kanzhongguo)

26th Lunar Day

Prepare any meat for the Chinese New Year by visiting your local butcher or grocery store. There are 15 days worth of celebrating, so lots of food and vegetables are needed. In the past, people might take their ox, pig, or sheep to the butcher to slaughter on this day.

In the past, people only enjoyed meat during festivals because of poverty.
In the past, people only enjoyed meat during festivals because of poverty. (Image: via Kanzhongguo)

27th Lunar Day

It’s the day to make chicken dishes and go shopping for goods to prepare for the Chinese New Year.

The Chinese word for 'chicken' shares the same pronunciation as the word 'lucky.'
The Chinese word for ‘chicken’ shares the same pronunciation as the word ‘lucky.’ (Image: via Kanzhongguo)

28th Lunar Day

Make assorted cakes and steamed dumplings, write spring couplets, and make Fu characters and Chinese paper cuttings to decorate the home and keep away evil spirits.

Chinese paper-cutting, or jianzhi (剪紙), is a folk art that originated in China around the sixth century A.D.
Chinese paper-cutting, or jianzhi (剪紙), is a folk art that originated in China around the sixth century A.D. (Image: via Kanzhongguo)

29th Lunar Day

This is the day for sweeping the ancestral shrines to show our respect for Buddhas and Gods.

Families also might leave offerings of fruit and burn incense to pay homage.
Families also might leave offerings of fruit and burn incense to pay homage. (Image: via Kanzhongguo)

New Year’s Eve 30th Lunar Day

Depending on the moon cycle, Chinese New Year’s Eve either lands on the 29th or 30th of the 12th lunar month. Regardless, this day is also known as the 30th of the year.

This is the most important day for the whole family. Traditionally, people travel home for a family reunion, and dinner is a very formal occasion. people eat dumplings and have fish for dinner, which is supposed to bring good fortune and an overabundance of money for the New Year. Both young and old stay up late to let off firecrackers and welcome in the Chinese New Year.

Chinese New Year is the biggest annual celebration. A hive of festivities take place during this period — parades and fireworks to traditional dragon dances and holidays starting on the first day of Chinese New Year.

The young and old stay up late to welcome in the New Year.
The young and old stay up late to welcome in the New Year. (Image: via Kanzhongguo)

New Year’s Day: Day 1

The first thing to do on the morning of Chinese New Year’s Day is to set off firecrackers to drive away evil spirits. Afterward, the Chinese will have the first meal of the year, which is as important as the reunion dinner for most Chinese people.

Most people choose to eat dumplings, hoping to have good fortune in the Chinese New Year, because a dumpling’s shape is similar to gold ingots, which were the currency used in ancient times. People in South China prefer to eat rice cakes, because rice cakes are a symbol of wealth.

Young people visit their elders, and in return, elders give them red envelopes with money inside for good luck. Traditionally, children would kneel to receive their red envelopes from their elders. And it was a custom to give and receive using both hands and never open the envelope in front of the gift giver.

The first thing to do on the morning of Chinese New Year’s Day is to set off firecrackers to drive away evil spirits.
The first thing to do on the morning of Chinese New Year’s Day is to set off firecrackers to drive away evil spirits. (Image: via Kanzhongguo)

Day 2

It’s the time for married women to visit their birth parents. In ancient times in China, women usually didn’t visit their birth parents’ places much once they got married. Though nowadays women can do that at any time, this custom, to visit birth parents on Jan 2, remains.

The time for married women to visit their birth parents.
The time for married women to visit their birth parents. (Image: via Kanzhongguo)

Day 3

This day is also called Goat Day, a day on which people cannot kill sheep or goats. In southern China, people think quarrels can easily happen on this day, so they don’t visit each other.

Goat Day, a day on which people cannot kill sheep or goats.
Goat Day, a day on which people cannot kill sheep or goats. (Image: via Kanzhongguo)

Day 4

It’s the day to welcome the Kitchen God back.

This day is also called Goat Day, a day on which people cannot kill sheep or goats.
This day is also called Goat Day, a day on which people cannot kill sheep or goats. (Image: via Kanzhongguo)

Day 5

People welcome the God of Wealth from all directions and routes. It’s a custom to eat dumplings on this day and set off firecrackers.

People welcome the God of Wealth.
People welcome the God of Wealth. (Image: via Kanzhongguo)

Day 6

People drink and get soaked in the holiday spirit.

chinese new year day 6 illustration man with horse and 2 children in the background with lantern
A day people drink. (Image: via Kanzhongguo)

Day 7

Happy birthday to all people! It’s said that Chinese people were made on this day, so everyone celebrates this day as their birthday.

Happy birthday to all people!
Happy birthday to all people! (Image: via Kanzhongguo)

Day 8

People free birds and fish to bring blessings.

People free birds and fish to bring blessings.
People free birds and fish to bring blessings. (Image: via Kanzhongguo)

Day 9

It’s the birthday of the Jade Emperor. People have gatherings and play operas to celebrate in his honor.

It’s the birthday of the Jade Emperor.
It’s the birthday of the Jade Emperor. (Image: via Kanzhongguo)

Day 10

It’s the day of Earth, symbolized by rocks. Any handling of rock products is forbidden on the day.

Any handling of rock products is forbidden on the day.
Any handling of rock products is forbidden on the day. (Image: via Kanzhongguo)

Day 11

It’s Sons-in-Law Day. Fathers-in-law treat sons-in-law with leftovers from Jan 9th.

Sons-in-law day.
Sons-in-law day. (Image: via Kanzhongguo)

Day 12

People begin to set up stalls and awnings in preparation for the Lantern Festival.

People begin to set up stalls and awnings in preparation for the Lantern Festival.
People begin to set up stalls and awnings in preparation for the Lantern Festival. (Image: via Kanzhongguo)

Day 13

People in ancient times lit fires underneath stoves to get ready for the Lantern Festival.

People in ancient times lit fires underneath stoves to get ready for the Lantern Festival.
People in ancient times lit fires underneath stoves to get ready for the Lantern Festival. (Image: via Kanzhongguo)

Day 14

It’s the birthday of the Goddess of Birth.

It’s the birthday of the Goddess of Birth.
It’s the birthday of the Goddess of Birth. (Image: via Kanzhongguo)

Day 15

People celebrate the Lantern Festival today! Chinese New Year holidays are officially over.

People celebrate the Lantern Festival today! Chinese New Year holidays are officially over.
People celebrate the Lantern Festival today! Chinese New Year holidays are officially over. (Image: via Kanzhongguo)

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