Chinese New Year Festivities: A Guide to Celebrations and Traditions 

Red Chinese New Year lantern in China Town.

Chinese New Year festivities are the biggest and most lavish of the year in Asian countries. (Image: Toa555 via Dreamstime)

The Chinese New Year is a time of major celebrations in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other Asian countries and is marked by family gatherings, community events, and a wish for peace and prosperity in the coming year. The celebrations are determined by the lunar calendar and typically fall between late January and early February, lasting for 15 days and ending with the Lantern Festival.


Flowers and decorations

One of the main elements of the Chinese New Year celebrations is the use of decorations, such as chrysanthemums and kumquat trees, which are placed in front of buildings and homes. Flower markets remain open for half a month, even until the third day of the New Year. This year, 2023, is the Year of the Rabbit, and stamps of rabbits are being published.

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Composite image of a painting of a rabbit with a radish along with two images of flowers decorating the interior of shopping malls in Hong Kong for the Year of the Rabbit.
Shopping malls in Hong Kong are decked out with flowers for the New Year. (Image: Emma Lu via Nspirement)

Lion and dragon dances

Another popular aspect of the Chinese New Year celebrations is the lion and dragon dances, which are performed on the third day of the New Year when most shops and restaurants reopen. These dances symbolize the arrival of good luck and the driving away of evil spirits. They are performed to the sound of lively drums and are enjoyed by all members of the family, especially children.

Chinese boys doing a lion dance.
The lion and dragon dances are performed on the third day of the New Year when most shops and restaurants reopen. (Image: Donkeyru via Dreamstime)


Firework displays are also a highly anticipated event during the Chinese New Year, with the shows beginning at midnight on the eve of the New Year. These displays bring excitement and stimulation, especially for young people. There are also official fireworks shows in Hong Kong sponsored by the business sector, which can be viewed by thousands of people at the harbor side.

Fireworks display in Hong Kong at night.
Hong Kong has massive fireworks displays sponsored by the business sector to celebrate the Chinese New Year. (Image: Tawatchai Prakobkit via Dreamstime)

Red pocket money, aka ‘hong bao’ or ‘lee see’

Another tradition is the giving of red pocket money, also known as “hong bao” or “lee see,” to children and employees. This custom is typically done by those in a more senior position to those in a lesser position, such as parents to children or married individuals to single individuals. It is also common to give red pockets to apartment building staff, such as security guards, cleaners, and doormen, as a way of showing appreciation for their service. The amount of money given in each red pocket can vary, but it is believed that both the giver and receiver will have good luck and fortune.

Woman wearing a Chinese dress holds a red envelope for giving gifts of money during Chinese New Year.
The amount of money given in each red pocket can vary, but it is believed that both the giver and receiver will have good luck and fortune. (Image: Toa555 via Dreamstime)


Food is an important aspect of the Chinese New Year celebrations, with each dish having its own symbolic meaning. Fish is a must-have on the New Year’s menu, as it is not only delicious but also nourishing with good protein. In Chinese, fish is pronounced “yu,” which means surplus, symbolizing abundance and good fortune. Northern Chinese cuisine typically includes dumplings, which can be filled with various meats, vegetables, and eggs, while southern cuisine may include sweet glutinous rice balls, known as “tang yuan,” which symbolize a harmonious family life and sweetness in life.

Serving of steamed grouper fish Chinese style during festive celebration in restaurant.
Fish is a must-have on the Chinese New Year’s menu because it symbolizes abundance and good fortune. (Image: Keechuan via Dreamstime)

What’s most important

The most important aspect of the Chinese New Year is spending time with family, friends, and the community. New Year’s Eve is a time for reunion and coming together, and the holiday is all about the warmth of family togetherness, and renewed hope for better days. The Chinese zodiac also plays a role in the celebrations, with each year being represented by one of 12 animals. The year 2023 is the Year of the Rabbit, signifying peace, and it is believed that those born in the year of the rabbit are witty, quick-minded, and ingenious.

Finally, the most popular greeting for the Chinese New Year is “gong xi fa cai,” which translates as “I wish you happiness and prosperity.”

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