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Home History and Culture Chinese New Year Greetings
Chinese New Year Greetings
Learn Chinese - History and Culture

The Chinese New Year is often accompanied by loud, enthusiastic greetings, often referred to as 吉祥話 (Jíxiánghùa) , or loosely translated as auspicious words or phrases. Some of the most common examples may include:


Happy New Year
simplified Chinese: 新年快乐; traditional Chinese: 新年快樂; pinyin: Xīnnián kuàilè; Hokkien POJ: Sin-nî khòai-lo̍k; Cantonese: san1 nin4 faai3 lok6. A more contemporary greeting reflective of western influences, it literally translates from the greeting "Happy new year" more common in the west. But in northern parts of China, traditionally people say simplified Chinese: 过年好; traditional Chinese: 過年好; pinyin: guònián hǎo instead of simplified Chinese: 新年快乐, to differentiate it from the international new year. And 過年好 can be used from the first day to the fifth day of Chinese new year.


Congratulations and be prosperous
Kung Hei Fat Choi at Lee Theatre Plaza, Hong Kongsimplified Chinese: 恭喜发财; traditional Chinese: 恭喜發財; pinyin: Gōngxǐ fācái; Hokkien: Keong hee huat chye (POJ: Kiong-hí hoat-châi); Cantonese: Gung1 hei2 faat3 coi4; Hakka: Gong hei fat choi, which loosely translates to "Congratulations and be prosperous". Often mistakenly assumed to be synonymous with "Happy new year", its usage dates back several centuries. While the first two words of this phrase had a much longer historical significance (legend has it that the congratulatory messages were traded for surviving the ravaging beast of Nian, although in practical terms it may also involve surviving the harsh winter conditions), the last two words were added later as ideas of capitalism and consumerism became more significant in Chinese societies around the world. The saying is now commonly heard in English speaking communities for greetings during Chinese New Year in parts of the world where there is a sizable Chinese-speaking community, including overseas Chinese communities that have been resident for several generations, relatively recent immigrants from Greater China, and those who are transit migrants (particularly students).

Other greetings
Numerous other greetings exist, some of which may be exclaimed out loud to no one in particular in specific situations. For example, as breaking objects during the new year is considered inauspicious, one may then say 歲歲平安 (Suìsuì píng'ān) immediately, which means everlasting peace year after year. 歲 (Suì, meaning "age") is homophonous with 碎 (meaning "shatter"), in demonstration of the Chinese love for wordplay in auspicious phrases. Similarly, 年年有餘 (Niánnián yǒuyú), a wish for surpluses and bountiful harvests every year, plays on the word yú to also refer to 魚 (meaning fish), making it a catch phrase for fish-based Chinese new year dishes and for paintings or graphics of fish that are hung on walls or presented as gifts.

These greetings or phrases may also be used just before children receive their red packets, when gifts are exchanged, when visiting temples, or even when tossing the shredded ingredients of yusheng particularly popular in Malaysia and Singapore.

Irreverent children and teenagers sometimes jokingly use the phrase (Traditional Chinese:恭喜發財,紅包拿來, Simplified Chinese: 恭喜发财,红包拿来) (Mandarin PinYin: Gōngxǐ fācái, hóngbāo nálái) (Cantonese: 恭喜發財,利是逗來), roughly translated as "Congratulations and be prosperous, now give me a red envelope!"

Back in the 1970s, children in Hong Kong used the saying: 恭喜發財,利是逗來,伍毫嫌少,壹蚊唔愛 (Cantonese), roughly translated as, "Congratulations and be prosperous, now give me a red envelope, fifty cents is too little, don't want a dollar neither." It basically meant that they disliked small change – coins which were called "hard substance" (Cantonese: 硬嘢). Instead, they wanted "soft substance" (Cantonese: 軟嘢), which was either a ten dollar or a twenty dollar bill.

 

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