Chinese New Year: red envelopes and lanterns symbolize good fortune

Holiday. Chinese New Year.


When? In 2023 the Chinese New Year festival falls on Sunday 22nd January.


Where? China and countries where a sizable Chinese population resides.


The meaning. It is one of the most important festivals. Chinese New Year, also called Spring Festival, means a season of renewal, a new beginning. Alongside the 12 year cycle of the animal zodiac there is a 10 year cycle of heavenly stems. 2019 is the year of the Pig.


How it is celebrated. There are a lot of regional customs and traditions concerning the celebration of this holiday. Bee Sim (a Chinese from Malaysia) tells: “Preparation begins on the 20th day of the last month of Chinese Calendar. People clean their homes. Bamboo leaves are tied in bundles to sweep every corner of the house to ward off bad luck. Debts are paid, hair is cut, new clothes and shoes are bought to symbolize a new start (preferably red, but no black color!) People put up the red posters with poetic verses on the doors, decorate houses with red cutting paper and lanterns”.

Chinese New Year Eve is an occasion for all families to get together for the annual reunion dinner, which is comparable to Thanksgiving dinner in US. The dishes are delicious: eggs, fish, prawns, abalones, dried oyster, lettuce, long noodles, gingko nuts and etc. After the reunion dinner, families go to local temples to pray for a prosperous new year. People keep awake the whole night by playing mahjong, cards, games, watching festive programs, playing fireworks and chatting with relatives.


Family traditions. Bee Sim with her husband and daughter Felicia (7) has been living in Feistritz an der Drau since 2009. “Malaysia, my homeland, is a Muslim country, with only 22.6 % of Chinese, so most of the states do not celebrate this festival”, she explains. “Luckily l lived in Penang, an island which has more than 50 % of Chinese”. Bee Sim tells what days of Chinese New Year are important in Penang.

The first day is a day to honor ones’ elder. Usually people visit the oldest members of the families greeting ‘Gong Xi Fa Chai’ (which means Congratulations and Prosperity). Married couples give red envelope containing cash as a form of blessing.

On the second day married daughters visit their parents, relatives and close friends.

The 7th day is a very special day. It is Ren Zi, everybody’s birthday. Feast on “yee sang”, a dish of pickle ginger shredded vegetables, lime, raw salmon slices, pomelo and various sauces, to ensure prosperity and good fortune. The diners will mix the food and toss high with their chopsticks. The higher they can toss it, the greater prosperity of the year.

On the 9th day people celebrate ‘Pai Ti Kong’, which means pray to the Jade Emperor. At the midnight, people give thanks to the God and let off firecrackers.

15th night is an ‘orange/tangerine throwing ceremony’. In the old days, young girls hope to wed good husbands by throwing oranges into the sea. Nowadays this day is celebrated by individuals seeking for a romantic partner.

From the eve to the last night of CNY, Kek Lok Si Temple lights up thousands of lantern. The glittering and sparkling of the temple cannot be missed at night.

“It’s hard to celebrate this holiday in Austria, because we don’t have many contacts here” Bee Sim says. “But I l know well all Chinese people try to come home if it’s possible. We will come back to Malaysia in one-two years”. (Research and text: Vita Vitrenko)



1. The New Year’s dishes have auspicious names or ingredients.

2. All houses are decorated with red lanterns.

3. The red posters were initially a type of amulet.

4-5. Kek Lok Si Temple (Penang, Malaysia) is one of the largest and finest temples complexes in Southeast Asia. At New Year it lights up thousands of lanterns.