I always share the hottest words and expressions about Chinese New Year, as well as the interesting stories behind those words, with my students.
Here are they：
龙年 Lóng Nián (Dragon Year)
2024 is the Year of the Dragon.
Note that strictly speaking, it’s not the Year of the Dragon yet. It starts from the Chinese New year，which is the 10th of February, 2024.
龙lóng, is one of the favorite characters for Chinese. There are 2 men who use 龙 in their name. One is 李小龙（lǐ Xiǎo Lóng，Bruce Lee）, another one is 成龙（Chéng Lóng，Jackey Chan).
小年 Xiǎo Nián Er (Little Chinese New Year)
The festival name consists of only two Chinese characters, but when spoken, the last character needs to have a retroflex ending, an er sound.
Xiǎo Nián Er literally means “small year”.
Generally speaking, from the day of Xiǎo Nián Er, people enter the Spring Festival period. However, the dates of Xiǎo Nián Er have a one-day difference between southern China and northern China. The Southern Xiǎo Nián Er, which is 7 days before the Spring Festival, is usually one day later than the northern Xiǎo Nián Er. So the northern Xiǎo Nián Er is 8 days before the Spring Festival.
除夕 Chú Xī（Chinese New Year’s Eve）
Chú Xī, its literal meaning is “the evening of change,” representing the night of change from the old year to the new year.
In recent years, there have been children’s stories that falsely claim that “夕” (xī) is the name of a monster, and New Year’s Eve is the “day to drive away the monster.” What’s scary is that some Chinese teachers believe this and tell foreign students about it. 😄
春节 Chūn Jié (the Spring Festival)
The majority of ethnic groups in China celebrate the Chūn Jié. However, some ethnic groups have different dates and customs for the Chūn Jié compared to the Han ethnic group. When we talk about “Chūn Jié” in general, it refers to the Lunar New Year’s Day celebrated by many ethnic groups, including the Han people.
In fact, not only most Chinese people, but also most Koreans and Japanese celebrate this same festival.
Therefore, strictly speaking, the “Chinese New Year” should be called the “Lunar New Year” or the “Lunar Spring Festival in English.”
饺子 Jiǎo Zi (Chinese dumplings)
Jiǎo Zi, is perhaps the most popular food in China, especially during the evening of New Year’s Eve and the next morning of the Spring Festival.
It seems that most people in many places eat boiled Jiǎo Zi during the Spring Festival, although over 1,000 years ago, people in the Tang Dynasty already had both boiled and steamed dumplings.
元宵节 Yuán Xiāo Jié (Yuán Xiāo Festival or the Lantern Festival)
Yuán Xiāo Jié is the 15th of lunar January. It is usually considered the last day of the Chinese New Year period.
Chūn Jié, the Spring Festival is the first day of the lunar January, so you can’t see the moon. 15 days later is the first full moon of the new year. This day is called the Yuán xiāo jié, which literally, means “first full-moon–night festival”.
Actually, the Yuán Xiāo Jié always translated as “the Lantern Festival”, because people celebrate by hanging beautiful lanterns everywhere.
In ancient times, people didn’t have much of a “night life,” especially young girls, who basically had no chance to go out at night. But on the night of the Yuán Xiāo Jié, the lantern Festival, everyone, regardless of gender, can go out to enjoy the lanterns and have fun. So especially for young people, the Lantern Festival is also a romantic festival. Some people call the Yuán Xiāo Jié China’s Valentine’s Day, which makes sense too.
元宵 yuán xiāo vs 汤圆 tāng yuan (Both are foods that only those who eat them understand😄)
On the night of the Yuán Xiāo Jié, people in both northern and southern China eat a similar kind of food. It is made of sticky rice on the outside and usually has a sticky sweet filling inside, such as black sesame filling. It is typically white and round, looks similar to the full moon.
Northerners call this food “yuan xiao”, using the name of the festival to name it; southerners have another name for it, called tāng yuán, which is usually smaller than yuan xiao. And in some places in the south, such as Shanghai, people will also eat tāng yuán during the Spring Festival day.
Many foreigners eat this food were harmed, for if they take a fast and big bite, they will definitely burn their mouths, by the melted sweet fillings.
新年快乐！xīn nián kuài lè！ (New Year Happy!!)
Xīn nián kuài lè, this is the most commonly used Chinese New Year greeting. However, because many people now use this greeting on January 1st, the Gregorian New Year, the phrase “chūn jié kuài lè!” may be more accurate. Of course, this year you can also say “lóng nián kuài lè！！（Happy Year of the Dragon!）”
过年好! guò nián hǎo！（Happy New Year!!）
Guò nián hǎo is a simplified version of “chūn jié kuài lè!“.
恭喜发财！gōng xǐ fā cái！（wish you make a big fortune in the new year.）
The Cantonese pronunciation of the phrase “gōng xǐ fā cái” may already be familiar to many. “gōng xǐ” means “congratulations,” and “fā cái” means “to get rich.” When put together, it actually means “wish you make a big fortune in the new year.”
When to use these 3 blessings above? How to use them appropriately?
The 3 blessings are usually used during the New Year period.
It’s best to start using them from 12 o’clock on New Year’s Eve because that’s when the new year begins. However, it’s also okay to say them when you see friends during New Year’s Eve daytime.
One thing to note is that if someone says a blessing to you first, it’s best to reply with the same blessing.
For example, if someone says ” chūn jié kuài lè!” to you, it’s best to reply ” chūn jié kuài lè!” as well.
After you have replied with the same blessing, you can also add other blessings. For example, if someone says ” gōng xǐ fā cái！”, you can reply ” gōng xǐ fā cái！chūn jié kuài lè!” which is also good.
福fú (character of every Spring Festival)
福 is the character you will see 1,000 times with 100 different fonts during the Spring Festival period.
福 means blessing and happiness, and you will see this fú everywhere, on doors, windows, lanterns, etc. Some people might put this character upside down deliberately, for the phrase “the fú is upside down” sounds exactly the same as “the fú arrived”.