For Chinese New Year, we heard from Carol Li, Associate Consultant from the London Corporate Services team, about her memories of celebrating and how she’s preparing for the Year of the Rabbit.
While our family doesn’t make a big deal about New Years celebrations on December 31st – we just try to make it to midnight and then go to bed! – we go all out for Chinese New Year.
We have family in England, China and South Africa, and try to get everyone together in one place, usually South Africa as it’s warmer! The most important part of celebrating is the food; there’s always a massive feast with a dozen dishes spread out on a long table, and they each have meanings based on their names. For example, one of the main things we’ll eat are sausages, because in Chinese, ‘sausage’ (cháng) sounds like ‘long’ (zhǎng), so by eating sausage you hope for a long life. In the same way, the name for fish is similar to the gold pieces that were once used as currency, and so it’s believed eating fish will bring you good fortune in the year ahead. There are a few essential foods, but you really want to try as many as you can, even if it’s just one bite, so you can receive all the benefits.
"...whatever you do on Chinese New Year impacts what you’ll be doing for the rest of the year..."
Chinese culture involves a lot of superstition; it’s not just the food, whatever you do on Chinese New Year impacts what you’ll be doing for the rest of the year, which means there are certain dos and don’ts. Looking back now, I’m not sure if my parents were joking, but as a child I was told, ‘If you cry on Chinese New Year, you will cry for the rest of the year,’ so I’d spend the day terrified of crying! We do all of our cleaning prior to New Years Eve; we won’t even clear up the food on the day or we could end up bringing housework on ourselves for the rest of the year. A more surprising part of the day is gambling, the adults in the family play Mahjong and other card games for money in the hopes of winning not just money on the day, but the chance at winning for the rest of the year.
One of my main memories from when I was younger is the red packets. The family would all gather in one room with the adults each having a red envelope with cash inside. As children we then went around wishing each family member good fortune, and they would give us some money and wish something back. I always found it nerve wracking because the whole family was watching, and as there are a limited number of specific, well-wishing phrases to use, I would get nervous that the other children in the family would use up the good sayings and I’d be left with: ‘Happy New year, can I have some money now?’
"...my parents always told me that I was the rabbit’s tail because I was born near the end of the lunar year."
I was born in 2000 which is the Year of the Dragon, but my birthday is on 8th January which is prior to Chinese New Year, meaning I was still in the Year of the Rabbit; my parents always told me that I was the rabbit’s tail because I was born near the end of the lunar year. There are specific character traits associated with Chinese zodiac signs, for example, people born in the Year of the Rat are considered quite cunning and sneaky, and those born in the Year of the Tiger have big, fiery personalities – that encapsulates my cousin perfectly. I’ve never actually looked too much into my own, but of all the animals I'd say I’m most like a bunny!
That means 2023 is my year, but that’s not actually a good thing, quite the opposite – your zodiac year is the unluckiest and you have to make an extra effort to maintain good luck. Red is considered a lucky colour and people wear it at events such as New Years and weddings, but if it’s your zodiac year you are recommended to wear red every day. When it was the Year of the Rat, my dad bought loads of red underwear and socks so he didn’t have to limit the rest of his fashion. I’ve been wearing red since the start of January, just in case; I’ve now painted my nails so I can ensure that every day I’ve got some form of red on me.
While I make my own resolutions from the start of January, it’s not a part of Chinese New Year. The main thing is to get everything prepared a good few days in advance so that we have a perfect celebration on the day, to set you up for the year.