The Lunar New Year is referred to by the Chinese as the “Spring Festival,” 春節 (Chūn Jié,) the Vietnamese as “Tet,” the Koreans as “Seollal” or “Gujeong”. International Contact, Inc. works with each of the large Asian communities in the Bay Area. Twenty-nine years of successful interaction with our Asian clients, employees and vendors have shown us similarities and differences in how each group celebrates what westerners call the “Chinese New Year”.
This important family holiday in Mainland China and Hong Kong has influenced the way Bhutan, Indonesia, Korea Macau, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and, of course, “Chinatowns” around the world mark the end of one lunar year and the beginning of another.
It is generally celebrated on the second new moon after the winter solstice, and more often than not, lasts 15 days until the next full moon. January 23 is the first day of the festivities this year, so when you are greeted with Gong Hey Fat Choy(Cantonese) or Gong Xi Fa Cai (Mandarin) during this period, what do you say?
You may have thought that “Hong Bao Na Lai,” (紅包拿來,) which is the Chinese response, would be appropriate. But Hong Bao (紅包) means red envelope. Na Lei (拿來) is literally “Bring it to me,” meaning ‘May I have the red envelope, please!’ roughly equivalent to “Show me the money!” and probably NOT what you want to say.
(If you’d like to know the origins of this response and its appropriate use, request it in your comment and we’ll include it in a later post.)
To be on the safe side, you can say what many Chinese have adopted from us Westerners – “Happy New Year” in English is “New Year Happy” in Mandarin: “Xin Nian Kuai Le.” Xin means new and Nian is year; so Xin Nian (新年) is New Year.
Kuai le (快樂) is happiness, joy, delight, or rejoicings. And in Cantonese, “New Year Happy” is rendered as “Sun Nin (new year) Fai Lok (happy)”.
And, if you plan to reciprocate the gift your Asian friends or customers offer you, here are a few of the superstitions that surround gift giving: black and white items are a no-no because they represent death; avoid things that come in sets of four, as the word for four sounds like the word for death; although rounded fruit like mandarins or oranges are well received, pears are not, because of their shape. Some believe it is because the word for pear sounds like “to separate” and that would be a bad wish.
Because the Chinese calendar is based on lunisolar accounting, 2012 is considered 4709, 4710 or 4649 depending on which scholar is being followed. What is undisputed is that, according to the Chinese Zodiac, this is the year of Dragon. As such, it is expected to display the special characteristics the Chinese have traditionally attributed to the mythic animal: uniqueness, drama, flair, and a particularly soft spot in the underbelly. An auspicious augur, as long as you keep your temper in check!