Chinese New Year, known as the Lunar New Year or the Spring Festival, is one of the most auspicious dates of the Chinese calendar. It is celebrated at the turn of the Chinese lunar calendar, and therefore the date differs each year. This year Chinese New Year falls on Thursday, February 19th, although traditionally festivities run from Chinese New Year’s Eve to the Lantern Festival, a festival that concludes New Year, on the 15th day of the first month.
While Chinese New Year is celebrated across China and in many neighbouring territories such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Korea, Vietnam and Malaysia amongst others, regional customs and traditions concerning celebrations vary widely.
For instance, a reunion dinner known as Nian Ye Fan 年夜饭 will be held for family members on Chinese New Year’s Eve, but the food served at this meal will differ depending on where in China it is being celebrated, although most dinners will include a whole chicken, symbolising prosperity, togetherness and joy, and a whole fish, symbolising abundance of money. In fact, the Chinese phrase “may there be surplus every year” sounds the same as “may there be fish every year”.
In some countries of Southeast Asia, Chinese New Year is considered to be one of the most important holidays of the year, with the biggest celebrations taking place in Malaysia and Singapore. In Singapore there is an annual street parade, well-known for its colorful floats and performances. Similarly, the Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees in Hong Kong draw many a visitor – local and tourist – to throw oranges up into their branches for good luck.
The Year of the Sheep
The Chinese lunar calendar is associated with the Shēngxiào, or Chinese zodiac. This year is the Year of the Sheep (also known as the Year of the Goat or Ram).
The sheep is recognised as one of the animals of the zodiac that people like the most; gentle and calm, the sheep is unable to walk backwards or sideways and so continues plodding onwards, indicating that 2015 will be a year that people will progress, slowly yet steadily.
The sheep is also the eighth zodiac animal, making it one of the most auspicious signs; eight is one of the luckiest numbers in China, symbolising peace and wealth.
According to ancient Chinese folklore, a mythical beast called the Nian would visit a small village in China at the beginning of New Year and terrorise the people, eating livestock, crops and even villagers, especially children. However, it was soon discovered that the Nian hated both the colour red and loud noises. From then on every Chinese New Year’s Eve, families hang red banners from their houses, decorate the streets with red lanterns and let off loud firecrackers in order to scare the Nian away.
Red is the predominant color used in Chinese New Year celebrations. It symbolises virtue, truth and sincerity, and is seen as joyful.
Red envelopes, known as ‘lai see’ in Cantonese and ‘hong bao’ in Mandarin, are often presented at social and family gatherings during Chinese New Year to children or unmarried and unemployed adults. The red color of the envelope symbolises good luck and is supposed to ward off evil spirits.
Typically, the envelopes contain money. The amount of money given usually ends in an even number, as off-numbered money gifts are traditionally associated with funerals. There is also a widespread tradition that money should not be given in fours, or the number four should not appear in the amount (such as 40 and 404) as the pronunciation of the word ‘four’ sounds like that of the word for ‘death’ and thus signifies bad luck.
Hakkasan will be offering all guests who dine from the signature Chinese New Year menu a red envelope containing a gift. This will be accompanied by a red wishing ribbon, and guests will be encouraged to share their wishes for 2015 before hanging the ribbon on the latticed woodwork in the restaurants. These wishes will be shared on the Hakkasan Wishes Instagram page and Chinese New Year website.