Chinese New Year is THE major Chinese festival of the year, falling this year on 23 January, 2012. This will be the Year of the Dragon.
Celebrations will be held in countries including China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Singapore and Korea, Indonesia and Singapore and, of course, anywhere with a Chinese population around the World.
(Thailand celebrates New Year’s Day on April 13, and Japan now officially uses the January 1 although a large Chinese population has traditionally continued to celebrate Chinese New Year.)
Chinese people use the Lunar calendar for festivals (so the date on which Chinese New Year falls changes annually) – using the Chinese Calendar it’s already 4710.
The date of the New Year corresponds to the new moon (black moon) which falls in either late January or February. Celebrations traditionally last for fifteen days – yes, some are already celebrating – ending on the date of the full moon.
Around a sixth of the people in the world celebrate Chinese New Year, each with different customs. At the core though is one central value: family is important. It’s the time to wish everyone health and prosperity, offer gifts, and sweep out the old (quite literally) to welcome in the new.
Traditionally, red and gold decorations are used as a symbol of good luck and to wish others good fortune, and, as with any good tradition, stories and fables abound. There is much feasting and street celebrations, and fireworks are launched.
From a business perspective, tourist businesses will remain open, but offices, some shops, factories usually close. The Chinese public holiday lasts three days. In other places, the close down ranges from two days to a week. The traditional red envelope that is given to children (containing gifts of money) often extends to adults in the form of a month’s salary paid as a bonus to employees.
In China, the cities will be emptying and transport will be crowded as people return home for the celebrations, and prices will rise. According to CBS World Watch “it’s the largest annual human mass migration in the world, with more than 3 billion planned passenger trips in the next 40 days.”
Chinese colleagues working in European and North American companies and unable to return home for the celebration deserve some special attention over the holiday period. However professional we are, being away from family and friends is felt more sharply at certain times of the year. ‘Start the year as you mean to go on’ is felt keenly in Chinese tradition – people make a special effort with their relationships, appearance and finances.
It can never hurt to make a special effort to find out what someone’s plans are, and as cities from San Francisco to Sydney hold celebrations, it’s a great excuse for a party.
So hang out the red lanterns, if only metaphorically: respect the importance of the break and if you want to wish Chinese colleagues well over their New Year, the correct expression (phonetically) is ‘Gong Xi Fa Cai’.
Wishing you all a happy, healthy and prosperous Year of the Dragon.
To contact Global Integration in Asia, please contact our office in Singapore, where we will be pleased to help you (although over Chinese New Year, don’t be surprised if we ask you to leave a message).