This year, our network Enrich had the pleasure of speaking with Virgin Media O2’s very own Amy Tang, Stephen Jasper, Natasha Bellinfantie and Alice Peacock about Chinese New Year and their own personal experiences about the special day.
What is Chinese New Year?
Amy: Chinese New Year is the equivalent to Christmas but in January/ February spanning over a number of days and in Hong Kong they get a three-day bank holiday. It’s a great excuse for the family to get together for big celebrations, big meals and quality family time.
On New Year’s Day in my family, we also spend time with our extended family and friends. That’s when you would get the opportunity to receive your Lai See or “red money” (big envelopes filled with money). In Cantonese, they give two Lai See, one from the mum and one from the dad but my dad is from Hakka who only gives one Lai See.
Stephen: In my family, New Year’s Eve is the big one. My wife starts preparing three days in advance. We usually stay at home all together on New Years Day and then look forward to being with our friends and family on days two and three. In Malaysia, we would spend the day playing Mahjong and Hoo Hey How (a fish/crab game).
Year of the Water and Tiger
Stephen: This year is the year of the water and tiger. When I was a child I was told of the great story behind the animals and the Jade Emperor who summoned them. 12 raced to the emperor, helping each other and hiding amongst each other to try and get to the emperor first. The order they arrived derives their sequence. It starts with the rat, then the ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster dog and then pig.
Good luck and bad luck
Alice: The night before everyone relies on each other to sweep the house and prep the food. It’s also tradition for everyone to have a bath and wash their hair as you mustn’t do this on New Year’s Day as it means washing away all your luck. You also shouldn’t wash your hair on birthdays or big celebrations either as it is seen to be bad luck.
Amy: Red is a lucky colour for Chinese people, and it’s not just used for Chinese New Year but also for when you get married as well e.g., the Qipao, which is worn by brides.
The number 8 is also a lucky number for Chinese people, and this is because the number 8 in Cantonese is baat which sounds like fat which means wish you good fortune or wealth. However, the number 4 on the other hand is quite the opposite as the number 4 in Cantonese sounds like the word death so you’d avoid the number 4. Cantonese is a very tonal language and there are 5 tones, so you have to listen very carefully to what someone is saying.
Chinese New Year’s Eve and Day
Alice: There’s a big feast on New Year’s Eve with a full fish with the head and the tail and a whole chicken, vegetables, and noodles for long life. On the day you must be vegetarian as you’re not allowed to eat meat, which is to do with the Buddhist religion.
The day after that we visit family and celebrate with lots of food. Our Chinese New Year celebrations are a time for us to be happy and support each other. If you see anyone upset, you help them, stop any arguments and create a sense of harmony and appreciation for each other – something my husband is thankful for.
Celebrating with Friends
Natasha: A lot of my family are in Jamaica, and I don’t have any family in the UK so for me, it’s really important to spend it with friends I love. I’m lucky because I have a group of Chinese and Malaysian friends, and we choose to spend the holidays together. They come to mine for Christmas, and I celebrate Chinese New Year with them.
Around five years ago I had the opportunity to spend Chinese New Year in Malaysia. I spent time with my friend’s family, which reminded me of how important it is to spend time together as I also come from a big family, and I miss them a lot. Personally, it’s an honour to learn and to be part of the warm and vibrant festivities where Chinese culture is proudly celebrated.