China is a nation of colorful languages. There are many variations to even the most simple Chinese New Year greetings. You have probably heard of xīn nián kuài lè (新年快乐) or Happy New Year, but it is said differently in other Chinese regions.
China is home to over ten dialects including the Beijing dialect, Cantonese, and Shanghainese. However, this number doesn’t take into account the 55 other ethnicities in the country that speak diverse languages. As a matter of fact, people in the northern regions and those in the southern regions can barely understand each other.
Mandarin and Cantonese Chinese New Year Greetings
Cantonese is also one of the most widely used dialects in China apart from Mandarin. Unlike English, both these languages are tonal. Mandarin has four tones, while Cantonese has nine.
To say “Happy New Year” in Cantonese, it is pronounced san1 nin4 faai3 lok6 (春节快乐).
You can also say ceon1 zit3 faai3 lok6 or ceon1 zit3 jyu4 faai3 which translates to “Happy Spring Festival.” The latter uses a more formal way to say “happy.”
If you want to greet someone a “Happy Spring Festival” in Mandarin, say chūn jiē kuài lè.
If you visit regions where Cantonese is the dominant language, you are also more likely to hear gung1 hei2 faat3 coi4 (恭喜发财). This is because they fancy saying this blessing for wealth and prosperity instead of the usual san1 nin4 faai3 lok6. It is can also be said in Mandarin: gong xǐ fā cái.
There are also more poetic ways to say “Happy New Year” in Chinese. Gōng hè xīn xǐ (恭贺新禧) means “respectful congratulations on the New Year,” while xīn chūn zhì xǐ (新春志禧) literally means “to record the happiness from the new spring.”
Chinese New Year Visits and Gifts
Largely based on the philosophy of Confucianism, Chinese culture heavily emphasizes manners, respect, and courtesy.
Bài nián (拜年) is the act of greeting and blessing during the Chinese New Year.
To practice bài nián, you must visit and bring gifts to your relatives from the eldest of your father’s side first. You can expect to receive money placed in red envelopes called yā suì qián (压岁钱) in return. Yā suì qián literally means “money to anchor the year.”
Back when the currency in China consisted of coins with a hole in the middle, elders used red strings to tie them together and give to their children. Red paper was later used to wrap money until red envelopes became the popular medium.
If you are given a red envelope, do not forget to perform three kē tóu (磕头) in front of your elders as a sign of respect. Kneel and position your hands on the ground just in front you, bend over and rest your head between your hands.
In other regions, married couples give out yā suì qián to single friends in hopes of transferring some luck.
Learn more about this tradition by reading our article on the Chinese red pocket!
If you want to enjoy the festivities and great food during the Chinese New Year, keep these rules and customs in mind and should be able to celebrate without worrying about being awkward!