Spring Festival 101 – useful words & phrases for CNY: 2020 Edition!

It’s that time of year again: time to wish your colleagues and Chinese friends Happy New Year and to wonder what on earth they’re singing in that song you hear on repeat at the supermarket!  

Let us help you with our guide to the essential vocabulary for Spring Festival!

The coming year is the Year of the Rat!

鼠年 – Shǔ nián – (Year of the Rat)

There are several ways to say Happy New Year in Chinese – you can use the basic phrase, which is also suitable for January 1st, or you can say Happy Spring Festival, to distinguish it from January 1st.

新年快乐! – Xīnnián kuàilè – 

(Happy New Year)

春节快乐! – Chūnjié kuàilè – 

(Happy Spring Festival)

鼠年快乐! – Shǔ nián kuàilè – 

(Happy Year of the Rat)

On New Year’s Day, or the first time you see someone after New Year, you can use a different version of ‘Happy New Year’

过年好! – Guònián hǎo – 

(Happy New Year)

Prepare for the holiday by decorating your front door and windows to keep bad luck away!

剪纸 – Jiǎnzhǐ – 

(Paper cuttings)

春联 – Chūnlián – 

(Spring Festival couplets)

福 – Fúzì – 

(Character ‘fu’ meaning blessings)

On New Year’s Eve, celebrate by giving gifts of red envelopes with money inside, and eating auspicious foods with your whole family!

饺子 – Jiǎozi – 

(Dumplings; lucky because they look like ingots)

鱼 – Yú – 

(Fish; lucky because it sounds the same as ‘plenty’ in Chinese)

红包 – Hóngbāo – 

(Red envelopes)

On days 1-5 of the New Year many parks and temples hold temple fairs, where you can eat traditional snack foods, watch craftspeople at work, enjoy performances and buy New Year themed souvenirs.

初一 – Chū yī – 

(New Years Day)

初二,初三,初四,初五 etc – 

(use ‘chū’ and then a number to talk about that particular day of the festival up to the tenth day)

庙会 – Miàohuì – 

(Temple fair)

The Spring Festival ends with the Lantern Festival, which is celebrated with lantern displays and another big family dinner. Dessert is yuanxiao (also known as tangyuan – small, round, sweet dumplings shaped like the full moon), hence the name of the festival.

元宵节 – Yuánxiāo jié – 

(Lantern Festival)

One phrase you’re sure to hear and see everywhere during this time of year:

恭喜发财 – Gōngxǐ fācái – 

(Wishing you happiness and prosperity!)


We hope these come in useful for the coming holiday. Are these words and phrases new to you, or are they all ones you’ve used before? Are there any others we haven’t included that you think will be useful for people to know at this time of year? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter. We always love hearing from you!

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