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5 things you didn't know about Chinese New Year

The Year of the Rat begins on 25 January, with Chinese New Year celebrations in full swing around the globe - but we bet you probably don't know about all of these unusual and interesting traditions...

Asian temple dragon (Shutterstock)

Chinese New Year (also referred to as 'Lunar New Year') is celebrated by over 20% of the world. The celebrations mark an ancient tradition dating back over 3,000 years, ushering in the new beginnings of spring following a bitter winter.

Of course, each New Year celebration revolves around different member of the Chinese Zodiac - from the enthusiastic, humorous monkey to the opportunistic rat, who takes over for 2020.

Typically, festivities begin in late January and last 10 days, often with plenty of traditional rituals and customs, including prayers, fireworks displays and special meals.

But we bet you probably didn't know about these quirks and traditions...

1. Decorations should be hung upside down

Fu decorations (Shutterstock)

Fu decorations (Shutterstock)

The Chinese alphabet has a character 'Fu', which simply means ‘good luck’. People will often hang depictions of Fu, embossed onto little wooden labels, outside their homes and businesses - but always upside down.  

The reason for this comes down to a cunning bit of wordplay.  People hang paper Fu decorations upside down because the character for ‘upside down’ (Dao) is pronounced the same as the character for ‘arrive’. Therefore, by turning Fu decorations this way, it symbolises wishing for good luck to arrive. 

2. Burning money is pretty common

Offering money (shutterstock)

Offering money (shutterstock)

Paying close attention to the afterlife is an important part of the Chinese New Year festivities. People take time, in the early moments of the year, to give an auspicious boost to family members who've passed away. 

People visit the graves of their ancestors to pay their respects, sometimes burning fake money by the graves as an offering - to provide their deceased loved ones with money in the afterlife. 

3. If you want to give a gift, think red

Children receiving gifts on New Year (shutterstock)

Children receiving gifts on New Year (shutterstock)

Red is a hugely important colour during Chinese New Year, as it represents prosperity and success.  Present giving will often take the form of handing little red envelopes stuffed with money to the youths of the family.

These little red envelopes are known as hong bao. It's important to remember, though, that the amount of money given in hong bao must add to an even number. Odd numbered amounts are typically given at funerals, in accordance to traditional beliefs.

4. Fish are prosperous

Chinese Fish Decorations (shutterstock)

Chinese Fish Decorations (shutterstock)

There's a lot of homonyms when it comes to the Chinese alphabet, and those homonyms are taken seriously, not least the word for 'fish' - 'yu', which echoes the pronunciation of 'surplus'. 

Therefore, fish are often given pride of place at the table during Chinese New Year feasts, and bright depictions of fish (often as lanterns) are raised up and down the streets during parades and celebrations.

5. Dumplings can mean real dough

Plate of Chinese Dumplings (shutterstock)

Plate of Chinese Dumplings (shutterstock)

Food is one of the most important aspects of Chinese New Year, and dumplings are prepared and eaten because their shape represents something called, "yuanbao", an ancient Qin dynasty-era currency, made from gold and silver ingots.

Traditionally, every meal eaten throughout Chinese New Year should be dumplings, though understandably many don't adhere to this today.

That said, dumplings are delicious, so eat up! It's important to watch how fast you eat, though. A coin can sometimes be hidden in among a platter of dumplings as a sign of wealth and good luck for the person who picks it. 

Thanks to Wendy Wu Tours for these tips. Xin nian kuai le!

Discover New Year's celebrations around the world:

8 amazing places to ring in the New Year

9 New Year's Eve traditions we weren't expecting

The world's best Chinese New Year celebrations

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