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Chinese New Year is better known as the Spring Festival here in China. It’s the equivalent of the Christmas season in the West and it’s all about family. In the last few days hundreds of millions of people have travelled across China to be back with their loved ones to celebrate the start of the New Year.

Here a few things you should know about the spring festival:

Lunar Calendar

Unlike Western festivals Chinese New Year starts on a different day each year, this is because it’s based on a lunar calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar.

What sign are you? I'm an Ox apparently.

Signs of the Zodiac

There’s a Chinese Zodiac, rather like our own, with 12 signs and each year is dominated by one of these signs. The twelve signs are Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. 2012 will be the year of the Dragon.

New Clothes

It is traditional for the Chinese to buy new clothes for themselves and their loved ones for this celebration. If you’re here and you get invited to a New Year’s Eve dinner you should wear new clothes – red is considered lucky, black is not as it is considered to be a sign of death. So don’t wear black.

Tradition has it that you wear new clothes, and red ones at that.

Hong Bao

I’ve already written about Hong Bao in another post, but don’t forget to carry some red envelopes stuffed with cash for children and those who work in the service sector that you wish to reward for their hard work.

Other Gifts

Traditionally this isn’t a gift giving occasion however if you want to be polite and recognize a Chinese friend’s celebration then food or drink as a present is best. If you wrap it in red wrapping paper with a little gold decoration (or gold coloured at least) then you’ll be away.

Food

It’s customary for the family to get together for a meal on New Year’s Eve, which would be the equivalent of a Western Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner. In the North of China, jiaozi (or dumplings) are prepared for consumption after midnight, the shape of the dumplings is supposed to represent wealth. Niangao is a cake prepared in the South of China, because it is a homophonous word representing “getting richer and richer each year”.

There is nothing in the world that the Chinese do better than fireworks.

Fireworks

Fireworks are a mandatory part of Chinese New Year and for the next two weeks, the locals will be chucking them around with gleeful abandon. Fireworks are mainly chosen for their ability to make noise and not for their pretty lights. There’s also no set time for letting them off, so wherever you go in China keep an eye out for somebody throwing them in the street or dropping them off balconies. And expect no sleep.

Greeting

The customary greeting is Gong Hei Fard Choy – which when literally translated means; “congratulations on getting rich”.

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