I’ll never forget one of the best things that happened to my son when he was in kindergarten. He came home with a small red envelope (hóngbāo) decorated with gold lettering and filled with two dollar bills.
As he excitedly told me, one of his friend’s moms came into his classroom that day to talk about the Chinese New Year, and she gave each student a red envelope to help bring them good luck in the New Year.
She had purchased the envelopes during her most recent trip to China, and she was glad to bestow the gifts to her child’s classmates.
My son was thrilled with the possibility of good luck coming his way for the entire year.
I was thrilled that another parent had proudly shared her culture and traditions with my son and the diverse group of students in his class.
While my son has forgotten about the gift in the three years since he received it at school, I haven’t at all. In fact, I still have the red enveloped tucked away like the coveted, prized possession that it was for my son and it continues to be for me.
And, today, I know that red envelopes filled with money aren’t the only things that can help bring good luck to you and others in the Chinese New Year. There are many other items that can be given and eaten, or things seen or said among friends and family to help wish everyone good luck in the coming year.
Here are 6 ways to wish your friends and family good luck for the Chinese New Year:
1. Greetings. During the Chinese New Year, you’ll often hear families and friends greet each other by saying "Gong Xi Fa Cai" (恭禧發財), which means "may you be happy and prosperous."
According to Good Characters, a fun way to respond to someone who greets you with "Gong Xi Fa Cai" is to say, "Hong Bao Na Lai" ("Red envelope please!").
It's also common to hear people say "zhù nǐ hǎo yùn" (祝你好运). According to Learn-Mandarin-Help.com, the first part of the phrase, “zhù nǐ,” means “wish you” and the second part, “hǎo yùn,” means “good luck.”
Access Chinese lists several other ways to wish someone good luck for the Chinese New Year. They include "Gōnghèxīnxǐ, zhù shēntǐ jiànkāng, shìyè fādá" (恭贺新禧，祝身体健康、事业发达), which means "Happy New Year, I wish you good health and lasting prosperity," and "Zhù láinián hǎoyùn, bìng qǔdé gèng dà de chéngjiù" (祝来年好运，并取得更大的成就), which means "Good luck and great success in the coming New Year."
2. Colors. In the Chinese culture, red, yellow and green are considered to be lucky colors.
According to China Highlights, red is the Chinese national color and represents happiness, beauty, success and good fortune; yellow symbolizes royalty and the power of the throne; and green symbolizes money.
For the Chinese New Year, red decorations often are hung in homes, in stores and in public areas. According to Cultural China, often people will display red peonies, called the "Flower of Riches and Honor," in their homes to bring luck and good fortune to in the coming year.
People also wear red during the holiday festivals and celebrations since it's believed to help ward off evil spirits and bad fortune. And, of course, the envelopes filled with money that are given as gifts during the Chinese New Year are red - and adorned with yellow.
Recently, the NBA’s Golden State Warriors announced that their players would wear a special Chinese New Year uniform starting on Monday, February 20. The jerseys feature the name “Warriors” spelled out in Mandarin on the front and include a goat on the sleeve. The piping around the edges of the jersey is red and yellow - for good luck.
3. Food. The Chinese New Year lasts 15 days and is the longest holiday on the Chinese calendar. Many of the foods on people's tables are ones purposely eaten to help bring good luck in the coming year.
One lucky food that is popular to eat is whole fish. It's eaten because the word for "fish" in Chinese sounds like "abundance." According to Chow.com, it’s important that the fish is served with the head and tail intact to ensure a good start and finish to the New Year - and to avoid bad luck throughout the entire year.
Many fruits are considered to bring good luck. In addition to being eaten, they also are often displayed in people's homes. News Everyday has a list of 12 "lucky" fruits that are symbolic of every month of the year. The list includes pineapple, which is called "ong-lai," in Chinese or "fortune cones," and oranges which are round like money.
Vegetables often are eaten during the new year because of their inherent health benefits - and the "crunch" sound you hear when you eat them, which is associated with money. Many vegetables also can be cut into coin-like shapes to help bring prosperity to the New Year.
According to Marie's Pastiche, during the Chinese New Year, many people also put together a Tray of Togetherness (or Chuen-Hop) for them to enjoy together with visiting family and friends. The food tray has eight compartments, which are filled with sweet snacks that have their own special meanings. For example, watermelon seeds represent abundance in the New Year and kumquats symbolize gold and prosperity.
4. Numbers. During the Chinese New Year, you'll often see things grouped together or given out in even numbers. That is because even numbers are considered to bring "harmony and balance" more than odd numbers.
In the Chinese culture, the number 8 signifies prosperity and success. According to China Highlights, the number 8 sounds similar to the word "Fa" in Cantonese, which means prosperity.
The money included in the red envelopes is always an even number and the number of compartments of a Tray of Togetherness is usually eight.
5. Gifts. My friend, Romana, recently told me that, each year, the US Treasury Department releases “Lucky Money” notes to celebrate the Chinese New Year. This year, the department unveiled the “$1 year of the Goat 2015” and the “$100 Dragon-Phoenix Circle of Fortune.”
The department released a limited amount of the bills totaling 88,888, with the serial number “8888” - all tying back to the number 8 being a symbol of wealth and fortune.
While the “Lucky Money” is no longer available from the US Treasury Department, you can still purchase the notes online from reseller sites like eBay.
As I previously mentioned, the gift my son received in kindergarten was hóngbāo - a red envelope filled with "lucky" money. Often, hóngbāo are given out by dragon and lion dancers at Chinese New Year celebrations.
6. Loud Sounds. In the Chinese culture, many people believe that loud sounds can scare away evil spirits.
Many Chinese New Year celebrations include fireworks and firecrackers, and the first person who launches the first firework of the New Year are said to secure good luck.
Most Chinese New Year celebrations and parades aren’t complete without a dragon and lion dance, which are accompanied by loud drums. People often try to join with the dancers in hopes of realizing the good luck brought by the dragon and lion and the loud drum beats.
According to Kid World Citizen, in a recent post on Multicultural Kid Blogs, the lions scare away bad luck and brings good fortune. In fact, sometimes the lions will dance in front of stores and restaurants to help bring them a prosperous New Year.
How do you plan to celebrate the Chinese New Year with your family? What “good luck” items and sayings do you plan to share with friends and family? Please share your plans and experiences in the comments below.
This post is part of the Chinese New Year series and giveaway on Multicultural Kid Blogs. Enter our giveaway to win one of these great prize packages, and don't forget to link up your own posts about Chinese New Year on our main page!
Giveaway begins Jan. 21 and goes through midnight ET on March 5, 2015. Enter below for a chance to win! Remember you can make a comment on the blog post of a different co-host each day for an additional entry.
First Prize Package
From Tuttle Publishing, All About China: Take the whole family on a whirlwind tour of Chinese history and culture with this delightfully illustrated book that is packed with stories, activities and games. Travel from the stone age through the dynasties to the present day with songs and crafts for kids that will teach them about Chinese language and the Chinese way of life.
Also from Tuttle Publishing, Long-Long's New Year, a beautifully illustrated picture book about a little Chinese boy named Long-Long, who accompanies his grandfather into the city to sell cabbages in order to buy food and decorations for the New Year. Selling cabbages is harder than Long-Long expects, and he encounters many adventures before he finds a way to help his grandfather, and earn New Year's treats for his mother and little cousin.
From A Little Mandarin, a CD featuring a collection of Chinese children’s classics – songs loved by families in China for generations – given new life with a contemporary sound and voice. The 15 tracks fuse rock, pop, dance, ska, and hip hop influences with playful lyrics to make it a unique and fun learning companion for all ages. Featured on Putumayo Kids Presents World Sing-Along.
Second Prize Package
US shipping only
From Tuttle Publishing, Celebrating the Chinese New Year, in which Little Mei's grandfather tells her the stories of Nian and the monster Xi for Chinese New Year.
Also from Tuttle Publishing, The Sheep Beauty, which brings to life the kindness and generosity of those born under the sign of the sheep in the Chinese zodiac.
Also from Tuttle Publishing, Chinese Zodiac Animals, a fun and informative way to learn about the ancient Chinese Zodiac, explaining the traits of each animal sign and what luck the future might hold for the person born under that sign.
From Tiny Tapping Toes, a monkey drum, plus a free pdf of a craft version. World Music children's performer DARIA has spent the last two decades performing in the USA and around the world, creating music to inspire all the world’s children and allowing children to become a part of the celebration and the fun of exploring world cultures.
You also can have new Raising World Citizens blog posts delivered straight to your email inbox by entering your email address in the below box. (My list is completely spam free and you can opt out at any time).