Celebrating Chinese New Year... the traditional way!

We wanted to know how Chinese New Year is traditionally celebrated. Fortunately, our lovely CAREGiver, Camilla, was happy to share with us how she usually spends this holiday with her family.

Camilla was born and raised in Hong Kong until she was 15 years old. She came to England and went to a boarding school in Somerset, later moving to East Sussex in 1995. Eighteen months ago, Camilla decided she wanted to slow down her work in the post office where she had been for many years in exchange for something new and different. In August 2020, Camilla joined our Home Instead family, and has thrived in her role ever since!

We asked Camilla about Chinese New Year and the usual celebrations. This is what she had to say...

Chinese New Year celebrates the beginning of the Chinese Lunar Calendar. Every year it falls on a different date and this year it will fall on the 12th February - 2021 is the year of the Ox! A lot of people in China call it the Spring festival because the New Year takes place at the beginning of Spring... when everything will become fresh and new!

The celebrations go on for 15 days until there is a full moon. Lots of people will have a two week holiday starting on our New Years Eve. I come from a very traditional family and on the 7th day we call it everybody’s birthday! Usually, the first two days of the holiday are very important for every family as it’s a time to get together and celebrate, the following days you can go and visit your friends and others who aren't immediate family. When we see our friends we wish them a Happy New Year and pay our respects, we bring them food or cakes which are often homemade.

Why is red the colour of Chinese New Year?

On our New Years Eve we go out and buy authentic Chinese flowers and decorate our house with a lot of red because it is a symbol of life and good luck. We have a special family dinner which we call our ‘reunion meal’. It's especially nice to celebrate with the older members of the family who you don’t see often.

What food is normally eaten on Chinese New Year?

We always eat food that is symbolic of good health, so we have lots of meat and fish. Fish is symbolic of prosperity, green vegetables are symbolic of health, dumplings and spring rolls are symbolic of wealth and finally noodles are symbolic of happiness and longevity! 

We try not to eat certain foods which are ‘unlucky’, such as porridge, as this symbolises poverty… which isn’t a great start to the New Year!

Tell us more about Chinese New Year traditions?

On New Year’s Day, first thing in the morning the younger members of the family must pay their respects to the elderly members and receive a blessing. This is when the older family members will give red envelopes to their loved ones and inside there is money. We always put new notes in there because notes that are ripped or old do not fit in with the idea of everything being fresh and new.

In our culture, it is very rude to open the envelopes straight away to see how much you get and you should wait until you get home… although when we were little we always wondered how much we got! We were told to always put it under our pillow so it would keep us safe and give us luck throughout the whole year.

Those people wishing for luck may want it for different reasons. For example someone who owns a business may need luck for prosperity, single people may need luck for marriage or a relationship and students may need luck for their studies and future careers. The red envelope can be symbolic for lots of different things... and a lot of people can be very superstitious!

There are many other superstitions. On the first day of the Chinese New Year, we don’t wash our hair, as we don’t want to wash the luck away. We never sweep the floor as you may be sweeping away luck and wealth! It is important to not argue or scold your children... or anyone for that matter! It is said if you argue the first day, you will argue for the rest of the year. That's why we really try to have a good start so the rest of the year will be a happy one.

How will things be different this year?

Usually, we have family friends who come over and I always prepare the food because I enjoy hosting and love to cook. Things will be different this year, of course, due to Covid restrictions. Instead, I think we will just have to have a Zoom call, a drink and a chat! I hope to prepare some cookies and some of the food I usually make on New Years Eve but this year I will have to drop it on the doorstep of my friend's house. Fortunately my son and granddaughter are in my bubble so we can have a small celebration and do the best we can to enjoy it.

What is your favourite thing to do on Chinese New Year?

My favourite part of the Chinese New Year is the reunion I can have with my friends and family. It’s very important to me because I can celebrate the end of the previous year with my family around and we can start a new year together. Although I’ve been living in England for a very long time, living in a foreign country I don’t have many relatives that live here so it’s really nice having the family together. My friends who we usually celebrate with have been coming over for 30 years! This is the first time ever we cannot get together so I have hope we can do things properly next year.

Many of us are currently isolated from our friends and family, including older adults like the Clients we provide our caring services to. It’s important that we support them to continue to do the things they love such as keeping them connected to others, their traditions and the community. If you would like to speak to someone at Home Instead Brighton, Hove and Shoreham please don’t hesitate to get in touch - you can call Liz on 01273 284090 or email [email protected].