1. We eat delicious food puns.
Fish in Chinese is pronounced yú, which sounds like the word for surplus. We prepare a whole fish, head to tail, on New Year’s Eve, but we don’t eat it to ensure there is plenty of luck for the following year. It’s the whole damn fish as no one wants just a filet of good fortune.
2. All red everything.
Red is the happiest color on the Chinese color wheel. It symbolizes luck, joy, and all the best things. Red is EVERYWHERE during New Years. We wear red. We decorate our homes with red. We keep it lucky.
3. We consume sweet dumplings by the thousand.
A lot of the food during Chinese New Year carries lots of meaning, and it’s true for sweet dumplings too. Its name is tang yuan, which in Chinese sounds similar to ‘gathering together’ (tuan yuan). The desserts are usually filled with sweet sesame or peanut paste. Yup, we love family time and we love our food puns.
4. We get to hang out with our families. A lot.
Family reunion dinner happens on New Year’s Eve. It’s a big deal. It even has a name, nian ye fan, which translated means ‘year’s night dinner.’ We love to congregate.
5. Brand spankin’ new underwear for all.
Representative of starting the year anew, everyone dons a new wardrobe — down to the panties.
6. Firecrackers. Period.
Chinese firecrackers aren’t about sparkles so much as being really freakin’ loud. Firecrackers are often purchased at some shady storefront and usually involves an over-enthusiastic uncle. Plus, they’re used to ward off MYTHICAL MONSTERS (see below).
7. We have our own mythical monster.
With the body of a bull and the head of a lion, Nian (which also sounds like ‘year’ in Chinese) was a beast that represented everything evil and terrorized villages and ruined fields. Villagers realized the fearsome beast was afraid of the color red, fire, and loud noises — hence, the firecracker tradition. Where’s your mythical monster, Western New Year?
8. We stock up on New Year snacks.
Every self-respecting household owns a quan he, or ‘tray of togetherness.’ Each tray has eight compartments, as eight is a lucky number, and contains different New Year’s treats. This can be anything from more traditional candied lotus pods to, uh, less traditional Ferrero Rocher chocolates.
9. Bedtime? What bedtime?
We stay up into the wee hours usually playing mah jong, a tile game, or da lao er, a card game, until we’re all yawning and bleary-eyed. Children are encouraged to stay up late especially as the belief was the later you slept, the longer your parents would live. It’s a whole new meaning to “After the show is the afterparty, after the party it’s the hotel lobby.”
10. If we’re unmarried, we’re raking in the dough.
Older relatives come to festivities prepared with money-filled red envelopes for younger, unmarried relatives, usually filled with crisp, new notes. It’s like a new year’s bonus for just being a kid.
11. We eat dumplings because they look like money.
This is thought to bring prosperity as dumplings look like the traditional ingot, the old Chinese currency. See the resemblance? Oh yeah, also, they are delicious.
12. LION AND DRAGON DANCES!
Known as wu long wu shi, they are a staple of New Year celebrations and parades. Dragon and lion dancing have been around for thousands of years and are thought to bring luck. Also, what’s more exciting than seeing lions and dragons dance?!
13. We show our dawgs love.
The second of the fifteen days of New Years is believed to be every dog’s birthday, so dogs are treated extra special — including strays.
14. Everyone has a zodiac animal! (Even you.)
There are twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac, and like having an astrological sign, you’re attributed characteristics of the one you’re born under. I’m a tiger, but 2014 is the year of the horse. It’s kind of like having a spirit animal, and you get a little possessive of your sign. (Tigers > All 11 other animals).
15. And finally, we end the night by lighting the sky with lanterns.
Finally, in Taiwan, the first full moon of the year (usually the 14th or 15th day) is marked by the Lantern Festival. We write our dreams on the side of a paper lantern, and light it up. As the heat fills the lanterns, it balloons up into the sky. The night sky dotted with light and wishes is one of the most breathtaking things you’ll ever see.