Chinese New Year,

the Biggest Celebration in the

Chinese Community


A 15-day celebration, Chinese New Year is the biggest celebration in the Chinese community. In Malaysia, it is a two-day public holiday whereas, in China, it’s pretty much a holiday month for them. Unfortunately for me, it’s a working day here in America.

Following the lunar calendar, the first day of this celebration begins with the new moon and lasts until the following full moon. Therefore, the Chinese New Year dates according to the Western calendar is different each year. It usually occurs sometime between mid-January to February.

China may celebrate Chinese New Year differently. As a Malaysian, I’m sharing what I know about Chinese New Year as how I celebrate it growing up.

The Legend of this Celebration

Like many Chinese festivals, there’s a legend behind this celebration where many Chinese around the world celebrate it.

A monster named ‘Nian’, which also means ‘year’ lived in the mountains and would attack villages and the end of winter. Every Chinese New Year, the monster would eat livestock, crops, and people, especially children.

As time went by, the villagers discovered that ‘Nian’ was afraid of three things: loud noises, the color red, and fire. Every Chinese New Year’s Eve, the villagers would wear red clothing, decorate their homes with red papers, lit lanterns, let off firecrackers to make as much noise as possible.

They never saw ‘Nian’ again.

This legend being used for an ad

person wearing foo dog costume

This is such an interesting legend, isn’t it? I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t know about this legend until recently.

Apple’s recent Chinese New Year ad was about this legend but with a little twist in it. It was shot using the latest iPhone 12 Pro Max, like the other ads in previous years. I wrote about their amazing marketing, check it out and clap for me!

Chinese New Year Traditions

The Chinese community definitely carried on the customs and traditions of Chinese New Year. It’s something I’m proud of and so excited to share!

1. Family reunion dinner

Just like Thanksgiving or Christmas, reunion dinners are extremely important. As mentioned in the title, Chinese New Year is the biggest celebration in the Chinese community, how can we not have a reunion dinner full of food on the table?

Speaking of tables, do you realize Chinese family homes and restaurants use round tables? Found out why here!

There’ll be heavy traffic as families travel back to their hometown a few days before Chinese New Year. If you plan to visit countries (mostly Asia) during this festive season, plan your transportation well.

Related post: How To Make Bubur Cha Cha, A Malaysian Dessert

2. Red packets (with money in it!)

red envelopes angpau angbao hongbao red packet chinese new year
Red envelopes for Chinese New Year

From the first day of Chinese New Year until the 15th, elders give red packets (with money), known as “紅包” to children or unwed young adults. Growing up, receiving red packets is something I look forward to during Chinese New Year.

Malaysia’s culture doesn’t emphasize so much on the number of money in red packets. Of course, the number 4 is avoided as it’s an unlucky number so no one gives RM4. But we don’t expect to receive RM88 or RM108 or RM128 even though 8 is an auspicious number. 8 is an auspicious number as it’s pronounced ‘fatt’ in Cantonese which pretty much means ‘make more money’ in English.

3. Lion dance and Dragon dance

According to the legend, ‘Nian’ is afraid of loud noises. Hence, the lion dance you won’t miss them during this festival. Workplaces in Malaysia will also organize a lion dance performance.

There is a difference between these two performances. The lion dance is performed by acrobats inside a single costume. Dragons, on the other hand, are lifted up on poles and are controlled by the performers.

Drums, gongs, loud noises are accompanied with the performances. At parades, they’re really entertaining and you’ll be able to feel the festive atmosphere and happiness!

4. Lots of Mandarin oranges

Oranges are pronounced ‘kam’ in Cantonese, which sounds like ‘gold’. Hence, households will definitely have lots of oranges for 15 days because who doesn’t want more gold? Mandarin oranges are also a symbol of good luck.

Oranges are not only displayed in households but also when families exchange gifts, there will always be oranges in them. Workplaces in Malaysia will also arrange a lion dance performance and guess what? They give out oranges too!

5. Gift giving

Unlike unwrapping Christmas gifts, during Chinese New Year, gifts are exchanged between relatives and friends. Gifts usually include mandarin oranges – it’s “gold” and red packets are also usually given out to children then.

When selecting meaningful presents, it’s essential to consider the sentiment behind the gesture, expressing wishes for good fortune and good health. Whether it’s watches, mirrors, or black and white items, it’s wise to steer clear of anything associated with the number 4. Instead, focus on thoughtful choices that resonate with the recipient, ensuring the sorority gifts you choose reflect genuine care and consideration.

Happy Chinese New Year!

chinese new year lunar new year decorations
A shop selling Chinese New Year decorations

I hope this post has enlightened you to why Chinese New Year is the biggest celebration in the Chinese community. Being away from Malaysia, the atmosphere and celebration definitely feels different. First, it isn’t a public holiday here and secondly, most of my family and friends aren’t here in America.

Nevertheless, New York City has a large Chinese community and they never fail to make this festive season special, enjoyable and fun. Except during a pandemic, of course.


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