Posted by: coolerbecky | February 25, 2010

On the First Day of Chinese New Year…

Chinese New Year is actually a celebration of the “first day” of the Chinese calendar. While the holiday is technically called the “Lunar New Year”, the Chinese calendar isn’t a purely lunar calendar1 – it’s “lunisolar”, meaning that the dates on the calendar indicate both the phase of the moon AND the time of the solar year. In any case, each “month” of the Chinese Lunar Calendar is exactly as long as one cycle of the moon from one new moon to the next. To keep it in step with the solar calendar, extra months are added every so often, hence why Chinese New Year has a tendency to float about roughly around the same time every year – give or take a few days.

Like Christmas, Chinese New Year celebrations take place over many days. The season is officially fifteen days long, with a corresponding activity taking place on each day. Historically, many of these observances have to do with agriculture or involve worship of traditional Chinese deities. Since Cooler Becky doesn’t really completely observe all the rituals associated with these days due to being Christian and not having a farm, she has thoughtfully included some of her activities for the associated days instead.

So, without further ado, Cooler Becky is proud to present the first five days of Chinese New Year!



DAY 0
Chinese New Year’s Eve

The Eve of Chinese New Year is celebrated with the Tuan Nian Fan, a family reunion dinner in which multiple dishes are served. This is a time for families to get together and, as such, marks the largest yearly human migration due to the sheer numbers of Chinese people trying to make it back home in time for these celebrations.

Traditionally, the reunion dinner is attended by male members of the family and their families. Each dish served during the dinner is supposed to have some auspicious meaning based on homophones of the dish names. Longevity, perfection, fortune, health, diligence and other such good things are all represented with a variety of different meats and vegetables. Family members are supposed to eat a little of each dish and often a surplus of food is ordered so that there are plenty of leftovers.

Since I don’t usually get the time off to visit friends and family back in Singapore, I usually celebrate the Reunion dinner with my Uncle’s family. My Aunt happens to be an excellent cook and does a good job in serving everyone enough to eat to prevent wastage. The spread isn’t quite as substantial as a traditional dinner, but at least we get to eat what we like!

Day 1
Chinese New Year

The first day of Chinese New Year is reserved for visiting relatives – usually on the father’s side. Parents will take kids to visit the oldest and most senior members of their extended family such as parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and sometimes a family matriarch or patriarch. Children usually give each person they’re introduced to a pair of oranges and receive red packets with money inside in return. As expected, most young Chinese kids look forward to these days each year because of their profitable nature.

Back home, my sister and I would start the first day of Chinese New Year with a traditional greeting to our parents, usually done in an over-the-top comedic manner in which both my sister and I would strive to recall as many ostentatious greetings as we can. This will earn us a red packet each. Then, the family would hence to a well-planned visiting route. Each family household visited always served some form of food. A bowl of noodle soup at an one house, a small piece of fried chicken at another, snacks and candies at yet another… it all adds up! Usually, by the time the visitations were over, my sister and I would be busting at the seams.

Day 2
Son-in-Law’s Day

So far, the focus of each day’s celebration has been on the families of fathers. Therefore, the big event for the second day of Chinese New Year is that women can return to their parent’s home for the day. This is celebrated a bit like a mini version of both Chinese New Year’s Eve and the first day mashed together. Red packets are exchanged, presents are given out and the reunion dinner is replaced with a reunion lunch.

Back home, the second day of Chinese New Year was always a sombre occasion. My maternal grandparents had passed away when I was very young. On this day, my Mother and Aunt would visit their parents’ graves to wash the headstones, place new flowers on the graves and pull out the weeds that grew in between the concrete slabs.

Day 3
Mouse Wedding Day

After three days of feasting, drinking and general revelry, most people would have worn down by the third day of Chinese New Year. Therefore, the third day of Chinese New Year is a day of rest. Traditionalists consider it bad luck to set foot outside their homes on the third day. This is a day for sitting at home eating leftover Chinese New Year goodies and watching the silly Chinese New Year specials on TV. According to the lunar calendar, this is also the day that mice get married! Most people turn out the lights and go to bed early so as not to disturb the wedding processions and some traditionalists even leave out a rice cake for the little critters.

I attempted to get my mice to celebrate the occasion, but they were not particularly convinced of its importance. I can only assume that their laziness was due to a lack of mates. The rice was well-received, though.

Day 4
Kitchen god Welcoming Day

On this day, the god of the kitchen apparently travels to heaven to report all wrongdoings that go on in a household. Practitioners of the traditional Chinese religions will offer sacrifices to the kitchen god in the form of sticky sweet cakes to gum his mouth up and render him unable to speak2. This is done in the morning, to factor in the travel time to heaven, which supposedly takes up some of the morning. Apparently, the god comes back in the late afternoon, whereupon a huge sacrifice is prepared for him.

Since I’m a Christian, I don’t really observe this tradition, but that won’t stop me from being able to enjoy a cake on my own time!

Day 5
Open Business Day

Most businesses open on the fifth day of Chinese New Year, marking the end of the official public holiday period for most countries celebrating the holiday. This is also the best day of the year to enjoy lion dances, a traditional, but noisy acrobatic dance in which performers pair up to mimic the back and front halves of a mythical lion while wearing multicoloured lion costumes. This dance is said to bring an little extra boost of luck to merchants, hence the frequency of lion dancers in Chinatowns worldwide during this period. It’s considered good luck to give the first customer of the year a red envelope to ensure that business runs smoothly for the rest of the year.

Schools will reopen on this day, usually with a big Chinese New Year greeting ceremony. There’s usually a lot of singing and dancing involved in these greeting ceremonies. When I was in school, I was invited to perform in a pompom dance for the greeting ceremony because my Chinese teacher was the coordinator for the New Year ceremony. I was really excited about being able to perform and did everything with a manic grin.

I think that we did the same pompom dance every year until I was too tall to wear the costume.


Sadly, the end of the first five days marks the end of Cooler Becky’s official celebrations. There are still ten more days to go, however, so look forward to it!


1The Islamic Hijiri calendar is currently the only purely lunar calendar with widespread use.
2Cooler Becky imagines the conversation must not be very long, since his mouth is gummed up.
“So, how is the XXX family this year?”
“Mmrrhgmmgmmfff… Nnnhmmnn ^_^ <3"
"Dangit, not again!”

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Responses

  1. Thanks Becky for your research. Learning about the traditions which I performed unknowingly is great! Waiting for the next 10 days

  2. Most enlightening Ms Cooler Becky


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