Chinese New Year is THE major Chinese festival of the year, falling this year on 10 February, 2013. This will be the Year of the Snake. The snake is meant to symbolise steady progress and attention to detail with focus and discipline necessary for accomplishments.
Celebrations will be held in countries including China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Singapore and Korea, Indonesia and Singapore and anywhere with a large Chinese population around the World (most major cities).
Note that because the date falls according to a lunar calendar, it doesn’t fall on the same date everywhere: Korea and Mongolia may, for example, differ. 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.
Why is it significant? Roughly one in six of the people in the world celebrate Chinese New Year!
At the core of celebrations runs 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 in many traditions) to welcome in the new.
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, as do feasts, street celebrations, and fireworks.
From a business perspective, tourist businesses usually remain open, but otherwise offices, shops and factories usually close. The Chinese public holiday lasts three days. Elsewhere, 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, cities will be emptying and transport will be crowded as people return home for the celebrations, and prices will rise. Chinese New Year is believed to be the largest annual human mass migration in the world.
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 Snake.
Footnote: We’re hoping we’ll get a report back from TH Ong, our VP for Asia, who will be in the region over Chinese New Year, and if you’d like to know more about our cross cultural training programmes there’s a page on this site.