Anyone expecting to be in China any time around Chinese New Year will hear a lot of people exchanging the Chinese New Year greeting “Guo nian hao” – Happy New Year. Travellers may start to hear this around early February, as the Chinese Calendar functions according to the cycles of the moon, and New Year falls around this time. Normally reserved and private, many Chinese people will even approach strangers on the street during this time to wish them Happy New Year.
The Chinese New Year is an enormous celebration all over China and among Chinese populations all over the world. Fireworks displays are common, the most spectacular being the government’s own annual extravaganza.
Customs and Traditions of the Chinese New Year
Some people give their homes, doors and window-frames a new coat of red paint. Homes are often decorated with paper cut-outs of auspicious Chinese phrases and couplets of poetry. Purchasing new clothing, shoes, and receiving a haircut also symbolises a fresh start at the New Year. Many people abstain from eating meat during some of the earlier days of the festival, and incense and ritual cleansing are not uncommon.
Chinese people exchange famous “red envelopes” containing even amounts of money. These are often given to children by elders, and $8 is a popular sum in the USA due to the luckiness associated with the number eight.
However, once the first five days of the festival have passed by, Chinese people will no longer use the greeting “Guo nian hao”, as they consider it to be no longer a part of the tradition past this point.
Alternative Chinese New Year Greetings
At beginning of a New Year, people hope and pray for prosperity in the year to come, for others as well as themselves. Travellers will often find people wishing each other success and prosperity in the future, or congratulations for fortuitous events in the preceding year. People exchange the well-wishing “Gonxi facai – hokkien keong hee huat chye” in Chinese, roughly conveying these general good wishes.
Numerous other greetings exist, some of which may be exclaimed out loud to no one in particular in specific situations. For example, as breaking objects during the New Year is considered unlucky, one may then say “sui sui ping an” immediately, which means everlasting peace year after year.
Children and teenagers often jokingly say “gong xi fa cái, hóng bao ná lái”, roughly meaning “Congratulations and be prosperous, now give me a red envelope!”
Summary of Chinese New Year Greetings
- Guo nian hao – Happy New Year
- Gonxi facai – hokkien keong hee huat chye – Prosperity and Good Wishes
- Gong xi fa cái – Congratulations and be prosperous
- hóng bao ná lái – Now give me my red envelope!
Using New Year Greetings in China
Chinese New Year is a great time to visit China, and phrases like these are essential for building a rapport with locals, for haggling in marketplaces and getting around. A traveller who demonstrates that they have a good knowledge of the culture will find Chinese people extremely warm and friendly.