Report: the Chinese New Year - the Year of the Pig - begins tomorrow and here's how the Chinese will mark the occasion

It can surprise many to know that the world celebrates many different New Year’s days. Some which will be familiar like our own 1st of January based on the Gregorian calendar, but some which are not so familiar like the Islamic Raʼs as-Sanah al-Hijrīyah.

An increasingly familiar New Year celebration in Ireland is the Chinese New Year which marks the beginning of the Spring Festival (春节 chūn jié). This year, the New Year falls on February 5th (the date changes each year as it follows the lunar calendar like Easter in Ireland). There are plenty of activities in cities across Ireland so check out what is happening in your area and welcome in the Chinese New Year with our Chinese friends. For Chinese people living in Ireland, they are far from home and they feel it most at this time of year. As good hosts, let us join them in their celebrations. To help you join in and have a xīn nián kuài lè (happy new year), here's an introduction to some of the traditions and activities associated with Spring Festival.

From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Cian McCormack reports on the Chinese New Year festival in Dublin

The Chinese New Year is part of a wider celebration which begins with "Little Year" at the end of January. As the home is the focal point for New Year celebrations, the home must be cleaned, top to bottom to clear out the remnants of the old to welcome the new. Much like our spring cleaning, it is a chance to get the home in order. Once the home is ready, the family can then welcome the New Year marking the beginning of an 11-day period of celebrations known as Spring Festival.

On New Year’s Eve, Chinese people everywhere try to get home for the reunion dinner (年夜 nián yè fàn). This is a very important family occasion and a seat is often kept free for those who cannot get home. The importance of getting home leads annually to what is the largest domestic migration of people in the world often causing travel chaos due to the high numbers of migrant workers and students departing big cities. The mass movement of people also leads to widespread shutdowns of services and shops in large cities and overloading of rail and bus services as everyone leaves their jobs to return to their home town.

From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, Professor Rana Mitter, Director of the China Centre at Oxford University, discusses the rise of Chinese nationalism and the vast reach of China's economy

For the reunion dinner, traditional foods are prepared including spring rolls (now you know what they have the name), lots and lots of dumplings, steamed fish/chicken dishes, nián gāo (sticky rice cakes) and hotpot. If you have never tried hotpot, check out your local Chinese restaurants for availability and have yourself a unique and very enjoyable dining experience.

Across China and indeed large parts of Asia, streets and alleyways will be decorated with red lanterns and colourful lights. Chinese couplets, poems usually written on a red paper and placed at the entrance to homes or restaurants, are put up in anticipation of new beginnings. In Ireland, many Chinese apartments will have such couplets on their doors offering good wishes and protection.

From RTÉ Radio 1's The Business, Liam Geraghty asks people on Dublin's Parnell Street East if it's time to make the city’s so-called Chinatown district official

One of the most exciting traditions is the giving and receiving of "lucky money". The elderly tend to give and the young receive, symbolical of the older generation passing on their wealth to their children and grandchildren. Money is distributed in red envelopes that according to folklore will ward away evil spirits. This money is saved or spent on some toys or treats depending on the age and wealth of the family.

No New Year’s celebration can be complete without the sound of firecrackers. Being present for such celebrations in China is an amazing experience for one’s ears as the urban soundscapes descend into a cacophony of noise. The tradition of setting off firecrackers arises from trying to warn away the evil monster Nián that would come to eat the townspeople but now is an activity that brings laughter, fun and joy to the hearts of all ages.

How to say Happy New Year in Mandarin Chinese

This year, the firecrackers announce the start of the Year of the Pig. Every year is associated with a different animal in the Chinese zodiac and depending on the year you are born your animal sign can tell something of your personal traits. For those born in the year of the pig (1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007), you are considered to be blessed with good fortune, will have a good life, enjoy entertainment but not in a wasteful manner. You are optimistic and mild-mannered, easy to trust others and can rely on the support of your wide social circle. Pigs are most compatible with Tigers, Rabbits and Goats so check your partner’s sign to see how suitable they really are…

Chinese New Year is an inviting and welcome addition to the global calendar so make sure you get out and celebrate. Don’t forget to practice your Chinese, it will be appreciated, fun, and prove an enjoyable experience.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ