First, the Western New Year comes and goes.
Then, another holiday comes around for many Asian people — the Lunar New Year, also known as the Chinese New Year or spring festival.
With the Chinese New Year comes red envelopes and a whole lot of Chinese New Year greeting cards.
It’s not a holiday where you get to neglect greeting cards, specifically as part of the hong bao — the red envelopes that are emblematic of the holiday.
But then the question becomes — What do you write on your Chinese New Year greeting card?
Keep reading to find out what’s lucky, and what you should never say.
Before Crafting A Chinese New Year Greeting Card — What is the Chinese New Year?
Since the Chinese New Year is also the lunar new year, it falls later than the Western New Year on January 1st.
The celebration and the calendar it’s based on date back thousands of years – all the way back to 14th century B.C. when the Shang dynasty was in power.
It’s called the lunar new year, but the original calendar was also based on lunar phases, solar solstices, and equinoxes.
It’s also the biggest Chinese holiday of the entire year, and there are several traditions to abide in order to get your new year off to an auspicious start.
Like the hong bao – primetime for Chinese New Year greeting cards.
When is the 2018 Lunar New Year?
In 2018, the Chinese New Year will be on February 16, marking the beginning of the year 4716.
It’s because the new year is always celebrated on the second new moon following the winter solstice, which usually falls January 21 and February 20 on the Gregorian calendar.
The proper festivities will begin on the first day of the first lunar month on the Chinese calendar and continue until the moon is full, or the 15th of the lunar month. In other words, until early March.
If you’re in China, you’re in luck – people often get a week off, though celebrations last much longer.
What Zodiac Sign is 2018 – and Why Use Zodiac Signs?
You can’t talk about the Chinese New Year without also talking about the Chinese zodiac.
According to legend, the Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on New Year’s Day, but only twelve showed up.
He named a year after each of the twelve animals – the dog, the pig, the rat, the ox, the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon, the snake, the horse, the sheep, the monkey and the rooster.
According to the Chinese calendar, February 16, 2018, will be the year of the dog. Prior dog years include 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994 and 2006.
In Chinese culture, you are believed to have some of the traits of the zodiac animal whose year you were born in.
For those born in the dog year, this includes loyalty, patience, and reliability.
How Do People Celebrate the Chinese New Year?
There are a whole lot of traditions, which can at times feel like a maze of what’s lucky and what’s unlucky.
The big one is the red envelopes, called hong bao in Mandarin and lai si in Cantonese.
Much of what you’ve probably seen about the Chinese New Year has to do with these red envelopes – they’re the reason why a Chinese New Year greeting card should never be neglected.
Traditionally, these are gifts of money that adults with income given to children who don’t have income, though the definition of “children” can also be stretched to include unmarried couples.
The amount varies, and it doesn’t strictly matter how much because the gift is symbolic.
That said, you should ideally have an amount that is either a round number or ends in 8, a lucky number in China. Avoid any number that contains 4 (an unlucky number) and absolutely avoid coins.
Other than the hong bao/lai si, other traditions include the new year’s dinner, cleaning the house (just not on the first three days of the new year – you’ll sweep away the good luck) and getting a haircut.
New year, new beginnings.
Writing Your Chinese New Year Greeting Card
And now, the real question: what do you write on your Chinese New Year greeting card?
First things first: a Chinese New Year greeting card is not a thank you note – you can’t just write anything you want.
There are certain phrases and greetings that are appropriate for some recipients but not others, some phrases which are considered luckier than others, and some that are downright unlucky.
We’ll talk about some key phrases, and the phrases you should avoid (and what to say if someone else slips up and says an unlucky phrase).
But before we get that far, keep in mind that the formal greeting for someone older or respected, nin for ‘you’, is different than the common, informal ni.
Thus, if you were giving a Chinese New Year greeting card to someone older, you would greet them with, “Zhu nin…” (Wish you…) instead of, “Zhu ni’? …” (also means “Wish you…” but is informal or for someone younger).
Greetings and Sayings
While you might start to get slightly bored repeating the same phrases, there are a few key phrases that will almost never fail to make your Chinese friends and neighbors happy. These are:
- Gongxi facai – May you come into a good fortune!
- Jiankang changshou – Live long and prosper!
- Wanshi ruyi – All the best!
- Daji dali – Good Luck!
These four phrases will generally be enough to get you around most social settings for the Chinese New Year, but you can also stay classic and use “Xinnian ha’o” “Guonian ha’o,” or “Xinnian kuaile,” all of which mean, “Happy New Year.”
Just do yourself a favor – if you’re not a native speaker, check with your friends or family members to make sure you’re using the right version of “Happy New Year.” Preferably before you write it on your Chinese New Year greeting card.
Phrases for Health
Of course, the new year is also about health – a fresh year for fresh, exciting beginnings. Wishing someone good health in the new year is a great way to welcome the festivities.
For this, you can use the phrase, “Shenti’ jiankang,” which means “enjoy good health.”
If there are children under 10 of your family and friends, you can also use, “Jingling huopo,” which translates to “a bright and happy spirit.” Essentially, you’re wishing them to be active and smart in the new year.
Greetings for Work
Because in the Chinese New Year, you also have the gongsi nian hui, which is meant to celebrate the past year of business and look forward to the next.
It’s an occasion. Speeches are made recognizing outstanding employees, there’s a program of dancing and singing and a fair chance that, one way or another, you’ll get roped into being onstage.
For this, no plain old greetings will do. This is when you’ll want to use, “X?nni?n kuaile!” (Happy New year!) In person, you can also use, “Tongshimen, wo gei dajia jingjiu wei women laoban -ganbei!” which means, “Colleagues, I’d like to make a toast to our boss – cheers!”
For your greeting card, you can use, “Caiyuan gua’ngjin,” meaning, “Enter broadly into wealth’s source,” or “Gongzuo shunli,” which means, “May your work go smoothly.”
Greetings for Students
For the students in your circle, you’ll have a separate set of phrases for them, usually directly related to being a student.
Two easy ones to remember are, “Xuexi jinbu,” which means, “progress in studies,” and “Jinba’ng timing,” which translates to, “Success in the examination,” useful for students with a major exam coming up on the horizon.
Greetings for the Family, and an Unusual Phrase
Then, there’s family. Where would the holiday be without them?
Not much of anywhere, because family is central to the Chinese New Year – most people travel to be with their families for the celebration, even great distances.
For family, you can use the four key greetings listed earlier, but you can also use these two family-centric greetings, “Hejia huanle,” which translates to, “Felicity of the whole family,” or “Hejia xingfu,” which means, “Happiness for the whole family.”
If your head isn’t spinning yet, there are some phrases you should absolutely never do or say. These include:
- Don’t say unlucky words or phrases – like the words for death, unfortunate, lose, etc.
- Don’t sweep your house or throw away trash
- Don’t finish your fish
- Don’t break anything
Fortunately, there are phrases you can say to counteract bad luck, such as, “Sui sui ping an,” which means, “Peace all year round.”
If someone says unlucky words, you can also say, “Tong wu wu ji,” which means, “Children say everything but take no offense,” sort of like saying, “Knock on wood.”
Get the Best Chinese New Year Greeting Card
Of course, all your holiday well wishes start with a great greeting card to write them on. We’re here to offer some good ideas, whatever you celebrate.
Check out our post on how to create the perfect family Christmas postcard, or 7 festive ideas for Christmas cards to get you started.
Already have a card but need more ideas about what to write in it? Try our post on motivational quotes for your next card.