Celebrate The Year of the Rat, Stay Safe and Have Fun

Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival or Lunar New Year, is a time to celebrate saying goodbye to an old year and welcoming a new one. The New Year officially begins on the 25th January 2020 and ends on the 4th February, making way for the Lantern Festival on the 8th February. To bring in the New Year, we’ve put together this article to make sure you have fun and stay safe.

The Date is Not the Same Every Year

The Chinese New Year is decided by the Lunar calendar and happens on the second new moon after the winter solstice. Although it’s on the 25th January this year, it can be anytime between the 21st January and 20th February. The main festivities in the UK this year start on the 24th or 26th January.

Each Year Has a Zodiac Animal, Your Zodiac is Bad Luck

There are 12 Chinese zodiacs, for 2020 it’s the Year of the Rat – 1936, 1948, 1972, 1984, 1996 and 2008 were also Year of the Rat. If you were born in Year of the Rat it is your Ben Ming Nian, the year of your zodiac animal, and meant to be unlucky. Wear red to protect yourself from the bad luck.

Chinese New Year is the Longest Chinese Holiday

It spans 16 days, including New Year’s Eve. Traditionally, celebrations should include spending time with your family at least until the 5th day. New Year’s preparation begins the month before the festivities start.

Getting One Year Older

Some people calculate their age by the Lunar calendar and have a “real” age as well as a “fake” nominal age. The “real” age is the one that changes on your birthday and the “fake” age increases on Chinese New Year.

Practice Your Chinese New Year Greetings

It’s likely you’ll hear “Happy New Year” mainly in Cantonese and Mandarin, it’s polite to respond with the same.

Happy New Year in Cantonese is “San Nin Faai Lok” (pronounced san knee fy lock)

Happy New Year in Mandarin is “Xin Nian Kuai Le” (pronounced sing nee-ann koo-why ler).

The Colour Red

Red is big for Chinese New Year, it relates to the legend of Nian. Most New Year decorations are red, you can wear something red too to bring you good luck for the coming year. Avoid black as it is considered unlucky.

Decorating for the New Year Celebrations

Public places are typically decorated a month before New Year and homes are decked out on New Year’s Eve.

Good Fortune

The word Fu, meaning happiness and good fortune often appears on New Year decorations, written in calligraphy on red paper, paper cuttings and paintings. It sometimes features upside down as a pun that good fortune has already arrived.

Use of Symbols

Symbols on New Year decorations are either a play on words or objects from legends. Dragons, gods and zodiac animals are popular, especially the zodiac of the year. Because it is Year of the Rat, most decorations will be related to rats.

Paper Cutting

Paper cuttings are decoration for windows, made of red paper with positive symbols, phrases and images including fish, dragons and phoenixes.

New Year Prints

The prints are a way of communicating your New Year wishes, featuring heavenly creatures, folktales to everyday life. A lot include a child or woman, making wishes of healthy children and a loving family.

Door Gods

Chinese folk religion and historical feature paintings decorate the main doors of homes, mostly featured in pairs to bring peace and fortune to the household.


Couplets appear on almost every home in China during New Year’s, they should be placed alongside and optionally, above the door. The number of words should all be the same and project your wishes for the new year.


The kumquat is popular in Asia and seen as festive. The gold colour represents wealth and fortune. It’s common to buy a small kumquat tree or mandarin oranges plant during Chinese New Year.


The Chinese New Year culminates in the Lantern Festival. Various styles of lanterns are released with wishes, poetry or Fu written on, in hope it will come true for the New Year.

Clothing Traditions

As part of the New Year traditions of forgetting the old and bringing in the new, new clothes should be worn on New Year’s Day to protect against evil spirits. There are no specific requirements for the type of clothing, it can be traditional or modern.

There are superstitions about shoes, it’s better to buy them before the New Year and never give them as a gift.

When wearing traditional clothing from another culture, be aware of cultural appropriation. Some people will be ok with it and some won’t. If you’re attending a Chinese New Year party, ask the host before going ahead.

Celebrating the New Year

Spend Time with Family and Friends

Chinese New Year is a time to be with family and friends, known as the world’s largest human migration with around 3 billion trips in 2019. The New Year’s Eve family reunion dinner is a New Year ritual to start the year fresh.

Despite it being a time to celebrate, family time can be difficult and stressful for some people. Set boundaries and keep your expectations in check to make sure you are happy. If this is you, plan your visit in advance including who you’ll spend time with and for how long.

Choose your battles, decide which behaviour you’ll let go and which you won’t. It’s ok to decline to answer questions and leave the room if your boundaries are ignored but be flexible to other solutions. Prepare some tension-alleviating topics before you visit, like complimenting the food, people will follow your lead. Remember no arguments, crying, bickering or fighting it is meant to bring bad luck.

Watch a Traditional Dance

One of the most globally recognised traditions during the festivities is the lion dance. It is a colourful dance, performed with drums and cymbals, to bring prosperity and good luck.

Get Yourself to a New Year Market

The outdoor open-air markets are a great way to embrace the holiday spirit before New Year’s Day, selling decorations, toys, red envelopes, clothes, trinkets and flowers such as orchids known as prosperous.

Enjoy the Festive Food

Food is an essential and symbolic part of the New Year celebrations; dumplings, mandarin oranges, candied fruits and fish are popular choices for the entire festive period, but especially for the New Year’s Eve family reunion dinner.

Whether you’re visiting a restaurant, cooking at home or sampling the wonderful street food, if you have an allergy always check the ingredients first. Speak to staff first if you’re eating out, alternatively prepare safe snacks for yourself, if you’re going to be out enjoying the celebrations all day.

Pay Attention to the Dinner Customs

For any meal during Chinese New Year, whether at home or in a restaurant the seating arrangement will be set and linked to social ranking. Dining etiquette dictates the guest of honour or the oldest person is given the best view of the room. Guests must wait for the host to invite them to be seated and start eating, often serving the guest of honour first.

Always eat with your mouth closed, never leave chopsticks vertically in food, especially rice and don’t wave them around or stab food with them. Research and ask around for local superstitions and customs.

Giving Gifts

For the New Year, children receive red envelopes symbolising fortune and blessings from their elders, parents, grandparents and others. With technological developments, digital red envelopes are now being sent to friends, employees and co-workers. Use new bills, avoid coins and giving amounts that include the number 4 as in Chinese it sounds like death.

When visiting family, don’t forget gifts but keep in mind some gifts are forbidden such as clocks which are suggestive of paying last respects.

Staying Safe During Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year celebrations are fun, but you need to be vigilant and aware of everything going on around you. When out and about stay away from overly busy streets until there is a break in the crowd. Find a police officer if you need help or have concerns.

Contact Information to Be Aware of

In a real emergency, call 999 or 112 for the police, ambulance or fire and rescue service. Call 101 to contact your local police station to report a non-urgent crime.

Check your local police website for updates on major incidents and sign up to Twitter alerts. Always check for up-to-date travel information for your area.

Pre-Plan your Journey

Preparation is key, the UK goes big for Chinese New Year so it’s highly likely you’ll encounter congestion. Always plan your journey ahead of time going to and leaving the festivities, consider booking a hotel within walking distance especially if you’re visiting London.

Don’t walk alone at night but keep to well-lit roads if it’s unavoidable. Any taxi, minicab or private car service you use should be properly trained and correctly registered.

Cross the road safely using the designated crossing and be aware of headphones impacting your responsiveness.

Look After Your Belongings

Don’t leave your bag unattended, keep all belongings out of sight and reach of pickpockets. When in a bar or restaurant if there’s a bag clip under the table, use it.

Make sure to report any bags unattended in a public place. Call 101 for your local police service if your phone or other property is stolen.

Visit the CitizenAID website or download their app for advice on what to do in an incident. Also visit the National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) website for further information and advice.

Victim Support offers free support for people affected by crime or traumatic events.

Firecrackers, Fireworks and Sparklers

Fireworks and firecrackers are a big custom to bring in the New Year, set off at exactly 12 am. Firecrackers were a way of scaring off evil spirits based on the legend of Nian. Firecrackers are banned in the UK and cannot be bought legally.

Fireworks must be CE marked and only purchased from a reputable seller. In the UK, fireworks are allowed on Chinese New Year until 1 am. Beyond that, it is an offence to let fireworks off from 11 pm to 7 am. Always follow the Fireworks Code. It is a crime under the Explosives Act 1875 to tamper with fireworks.

  • Fireworks should be kept in a closed box or tin.
  • Always follow the instructions, light fireworks at arm’s length using a taper and stand well back.
  • Don’t go near a firework which has been lit, even if it hasn’t gone off.
  • Never carry fireworks in your pocket or throw them. Throwing fireworks is illegal.
  • Only adults must light fireworks and safely dispose of them once used.
  • Be courteous and warn your neighbours about any display you’re planning.
  • Keep naked flames like cigarettes away from fireworks.
  • Fireworks must be directed away from spectators.
  • Never drink alcohol while operating fireworks and keep anyone consuming alcohol a safe distance away.

Sparklers can reach more than 15 times the boiling point of water. Any child using sparklers should be supervised, children under 5 shouldn’t use sparklers. To use them safely, hold them at arm’s length and wear gloves. They should be lit by an adult one at a time, with a water bucket deep enough to hold the sparklers when they’ve burnt out nearby, put them in hot end first.

Chinese Sky Lanterns Can Be Deadly

Because Chinese lanterns contain a naked flame, the use of them is discouraged. The lanterns can also be harmful to livestock and have been mistaken for distress flares at sea. If you do use them, always read the manufacturer’s instructions, consider the launch environment and flight path.

Lanterns should only be used by responsible adults, not by anyone that has consumed alcohol. The launch area must have no flammable materials, also avoid trees, power lines, buildings, main roads, motorways and crops. Never launch within five miles of an airport or in winds in excess of five mph. Check the wind direction before launching. Damaged lanterns shouldn’t be used and make sure to have water on hand in case of fire.

Don’t Let Candles Torch Your Fun

Candles are part of many Chinese New Year legends, but they can be dangerous so keep them out of reach of children, animals and away from curtains, furniture and decorations.

Tealights and scented candles must be in a suitable glass or metal holder as they can melt plastic. Candles must never be left burning unattended.

Cooking a New Year Feast

Most fires start in the kitchen, be cautious when preparing your New Year’s feast and never leave cooking unattended. All hobs should be cleaned regularly to prevent a build-up of fat. Keep any flammable materials, tea towels or lose clothing, away from cooking appliances.

Never fill a pan more than one-third full of oil, put food into a pan with oil that’s smoking or throw water it. Turn off the heat and leave the pan to cool. Fit smoke alarms on every floor and test them weekly.

Don’t Let Your Kitchen Get Overcrowded

For your New Year’s meal, you’ll probably have a lot of friends and family coming. Too many people in the kitchen can distract you, have a one in one out policy and keep all kids well clear.

Have an Evacuation Plan Arranged

Everyone in your home should know what to do in the event a fire. Prepare an escape plan for all possibilities, practice it and stick to it.

Chinese New Year Taboos

Negative Words

Any word with negative meaning (pain, death, sick, empty, ghost, poor, break and kill) is forbidden. By saying the word it’s thought you will bring misfortune to you and your loved ones.


Before the New Year, sweeping can make room for the good fortune. But, sweeping on the first day of Chinese New Year is not allowed so as not to sweep away the good luck. If you need to clean, start at the outer edges of the room and work inwards.

Debt Repayments

Any debt should be repaid before Chinese New Year otherwise you’ll owe money for the whole year. Borrowing money also means you will have to borrow for the entire year. Don’t demand any debt be repaid to you either, it will make you unlucky.

Fighting and Crying

Any issues should be resolved peacefully and with no crying. However, if a child cries, they are not to be reprimanded to ensure a smooth path for the coming year.

Broken Ceramics or Glass

Breaking something breaks connection to fortune and prosperity. Tradition dictates that broken ceramics or glass must be wrapped in red paper and thrown away on the fifth day of the New Year.

Visiting the Wife’s Family

A married woman customarily spends Chinese New Year with her in-laws, visit her own parents on New Year’s Day can bring bad luck.

Taking Medication

It’s a taboo to take medication or visit the hospital during Chinese New Year otherwise you will be sick for the entire year. However, being chronically ill or contracting a sudden illness means immediate health must come first.

Using Scissors, Knives or Other Sharp Objects

Sharp objects like scissors, needles and knives should not be handled during Chinese New Year, it can cut your stream of wealth and success. This includes no hair cutting.

Washing Clothes

Clothes are not to be washed on the first and second day, because the two days are celebrated as the birthday of the Water God. Washing clothes during this time will offend the Water God.

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