Keywords about Spring Festival (Ⅱ) (Elementary)

In the previous issue we introduced four keywords about Spring Festival: 春运 (chūnyùn), 春晚 (chūnwǎn), 春联 (chūnlián) and 压岁钱 (yāsuìqián). Of course, there are more than 4 words to learn about Chinese New Year, so today we’ll continue our discussion to bring you up to speed.

1. 买年货 (mǎi niánhuò) 

This keyword is composed of two parts. First is 买 (mǎi), a verb meaning “to buy.” The second part is 年货 (niánhuò), which is a noun. 年货 (niánhuò) is made up of 年 (nián), “year” (short for New Year), and 货 (huò), “goods.” When put together, 买年货 (mǎi niánhuò) means “to buy goods for New Year’s.” During this New Year’s shopping spree, which starts on the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month, shopkeepers anticipate the high turnout by decorating their shops with flowers and ribbons and playing New Year’s songs. Traditionally, 年货 (niánhuò) included foods, such as peanuts, sunflower seeds, candies, and meat, as well as New Year’s paintings, 春联 (chūnlián), and clothes. In ancient China, homemade 年货 (niánhuò) were very common, but nowadays, 买年货 (mǎi niánhuò) strictly means New Year’s shopping. People will usually go out to 买年货 (mǎiniánhuò) as a family to buy whatever they need for New Year’s, and more!

2. 吃年夜饭 (chī niányèfàn)

年夜 (niányè) means “New Year’s Eve,” or the last night before the start of a New Year. 吃饭 (chīfàn) means “to eat food.” 吃年夜饭 (chī niányèfàn) means “to eat New Year’s Eve dinner,” and it is one of the most important activities during Spring Festival. On New Year’s Eve, family members, some having been away for the whole year, return home to help their family prepare 年夜饭 (niányèfàn). At night, the whole family gathers around the table, toasting to luck, health, and a prosperous New Year. Most often the setting for this meal is at one’s home; however, having 年夜饭 (niányèfàn) with family members at a restaurant is gaining in popularity, and famous restaurants will be booked a month or longer ahead of New Year’s Eve. Still, no matter the venue, the theme of  吃年夜饭 (chī niányèfàn) is always 团圆 (tuányuán), “reunion.”

Do you know what is eaten during 年夜饭 (niányèfàn)? If you’ve ever travelled to China, you’re probably aware of the rampant symbolism in foods. This is especially the case during Spring Festival, when people strive to eat foods that symbolize good intentions for the New Year. Above all else, dumplings and fish are the must-have dishes. Like a round, full belly, dumplings symbolize the Chinese people’s wish for an abundant year without hunger. The word for “fish” in Chinese is 鱼 (yú), which, when spoken, sounds the same as 余 (yú), meaning “surplus” or “rich.” Therefore, in Chinese people’s minds, eating fish on this particular night will bring a surplus of earnings in the year to come.

3. 放鞭炮 (fàng biānpào)

You’re sure to know about this keyword, as it is a famous Chinese invention. 放 (fàng) means “to set off” and 鞭炮 (biānpào) are “firecrackers.” New Year’s fireworks displays happen all over the world, from Sydney to New York, but do you know why firecrackers and New Year always go hand in hand? In ancient China, it was believed that there was a monster who came out every spring to attack the Chinese people. In order to scare it away, people set off loud and colorful firecrackers. If they could scare him away, the people were safe for another year. Of course, that was a long time ago and no one still believes in the monster, but they continue to 放鞭炮 (fàng biānpào), set off firecrackers, every year. The custom is to light the firecrackers after sticking 春联 (chūnlián) on the door and on the early morning of the New Year. This tradition is adhered to more strictly in the countryside. In the city, one can hear the sounds of explosions many days before New Year’s Eve. Children especially enjoy this time of year, using their pocket-money to buy firecrackers and setting them off for fun.

4. 拜年 (bàinián)

On the first day of Chinese New Year, people go from house to house to visit friends, relatives, and neighbors. In Chinese, this action is called 拜年 (bàinián), or, “to pay a New Year’s call.” People start this day by having breakfast earlier than usual, dressing children in new clothes, and heading out to pay many visits.
If you would like to go out this year to 拜年 (bàinián), there are a few simple greetings you should know. One New Year’s greeting is: 新年好  (xīnnián hǎo). This means “Happy New Year!” Another greeting is: 给您拜年了(gěi nín bàinián le). This means “Happy New Year to you!” The former is used by almost everyone, while the latter is used when a young person pays a visit to an elderly or respected person. With the changes in society, the ways to 拜年 (bàinián) have expanded. You don’t need to go door to door anymore: you can send e-mails, online videos, e-cards, or text messages to give a New Year’s wish.

买年货 (mǎi niánhuò):  to buy goods for New Year’s

吃年夜饭 (chī niányèfàn): to eat New Year’s Eve dinner

放鞭炮 (fàng biānpào): to set off firecrackers

拜年 (bàinián): to pay a New Year’s call


1. What’s the meaning of 年货 (niánhuò)? ________

A. New Year’s goods

B. New Year’s dinner

C. to visit relatives

2. Do Chinese people 放鞭炮 (fàng biānpào) during Spring Festival? ________

A. Yes

B. No

3.   Which of the following is a must-have dish at a Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner? ____

A. noodles

B. carrots

C. dumplings

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4 thoughts on “Keywords about Spring Festival (Ⅱ) (Elementary)”

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