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Chinese New Year for a Guangdong Native

Posted by Allen (郑伟杰 Weijie Zheng) from WrittenChinese.Com

As the Chinese New Year approaches, the holiday spirit in China grows stronger and stronger. You may see or hear a lot of phrases including the character “马” (mǎ=horse) because the coming year will be the Year of the Horse.  “马上(mǎ shàng)” means “immediately”, so phrases such as “马上有钱(mǎshàng yǒu qián = get money immediately), “马上有对象” (mǎshàng yǒu duìxiàng = find a mate immediately)”, and “马上行大运(mǎshàng xíng dà yùn = have good luck immediately)” are often heard. Depending on where you come from in China, there are different customs and habits for Chinese New Year’s Eve (除夕, chú xī). I would like to introduce what a Guangdong native like me will do on the final day of the Chinese lunar calendar.

In the morning, my family and I will have a really nice breakfast at a restaurant. To a Guangdong native, there is nothing better than dim sum (点心, diǎn xin)! Below are several images of common dim sum dishes:


We enjoy dim sum very much, but more so we enjoy the chance to chat with our family members, friends, and neighbors. We share stories from the previous year and expectations for the coming year in a relaxing and joyful atmosphere.

After lunch, it’s time to change the old “couplets”. Couplets are the red banners that are posted above, on the sides, and in the middle of a family’s front door.

couplets Chinese new year

To read the couplets, start from the right side, then the left, then read the top. For example, this image should be read “日日平安福满门,年年富贵人兴旺,心想事成 (rì rì pingān fú mǎnmén, nián nián fùguì rén xīngwàng, xīn xiǎng shì chéng)” which means “Be safe every day and full of happiness. Be prosperous every year and full of luck. Dreams will come true.”

In the afternoon, we will shower with pomelo leaves (柚子, yòuzi) because it is said that the leaves can clear the bad luck and drive evil away from people. It’s funny to see leaves near the shampoo in the bathroom, but I love this tradition and the leaves smell really good! After the “evil” is scared away, we will put on new clothes and new shoes, meaning everything will be new for the New Year.

Dinner is the most important activity on Chinese New Year’s Eve. We call it “团年饭” (tuán niánfàn = family reunion dinner) or “年夜饭”(nián yèfàn = New Year’s Eve dinner). We will prepare the best dinner of the whole year and all of the family members will sit together and enjoy it. This is the happiest part of Chinese New Year’s Eve. In recent years, more and more families choose to have the dinner in a restaurant because more people can be together and you don’t need to be bothered preparing the dinner. No matter if you are at home or in a restaurant, “干杯!”(gānbēi = bottoms up)

After the dinner, we may watch “春晚”(chūnwǎn = spring festival gala)on TV or play “麻将” (má jiàng= Mahjong tile game). The children and unmarried young people will receive “红包 (hóng bāo)” which is a red envelope with money inside from your married family members.

In general, that’s what my family does on Chinese New Year’s Eve. “恭喜发财(gōng xǐ fā cái)!” = Wishing you great fortune!