Yee Sang, the ‘Ong’ Colour, and Other CNY Traditions Explained

Do you know why’s everyone dressed in red and why everyone scrambles to clean their house before Chinese New Year? Find out below!

Dong Dong Dong Qiang! 

Chinese New Year is just around the corner and this year it falls on 1st February 2022 (Tuesday), diving into the Year of the Tiger. Traditionally, Chinese New Year (CNY) is celebrated for 15 days until Chap Goh Mei which literally means the 15th night, or the Lantern Festival. Also known as Spring Festival, Chinese New Year is the most widely celebrated Chinese festival and is also one filled with the most well-known Chinese traditions. So what’s so special about CNY, why do the Chinese celebrate CNY, and what are the traditions? Let's find out!

PS: This new year celebration is also called Lunar New Year as many other Asian cultures across the world such as the Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, Tibetan, etc celebrate their new year according to the lunar calendar as well. Although it’s celebrated around the same time, each culture has their own origin and defining traditions.


CNY originated from China’s Shang Dynasty, approximately 3,500 years ago. Apart from welcoming the coming year, CNY is celebrated to reunite families. Back in the olden days, and even now, many families in China were force to leave and separate from their families all year long to work and earn a living. This tradition has since been continued in most Chinese families across the world. Hence, the CNY celebration’s ultimate goal is to allow family members to reunite, spend time together, or gather around, which leads to the following traditions you should do during CNY:

#1. Nothing unites people more than food


As mentioned, a CNY celebration reunites families, so one of the highlights of CNY is the reunion dinner. A reunion dinner is usually held on Chinese New Year’s eve, where the entire family of several generations sit, talk, and enjoy food together. But what food do they eat? 

Each traditional food served during a reunion dinner has different meanings. For instance, having hotpot or steamboat represents the family coming home together. Noodles that are longer than usual symbolises longevity. The Buddha’s Delight, a popular vegetarian dish with at least 8 ingredients, has its own auspicious symbolism. Even fruits served have auspicious meanings, like pineapple and mandarin oranges which represent wealth and luck. 

A popular tradition that stemmed from Malaysia is the yee sang or the Prosperity Toss. It’s essentially a raw-fish salad served as an appetiser consisting of strips of raw fish like salmon, shredded vegetables, and a variety of sauces. Once served, everyone at the table stands up to toss and mix all the ingredients as high as possible (the higher the better) while saying aloud auspicious greetings. So, get your chopsticks ready!

#2. Sweep and mop, bad juju be gone!


Every year is seen to be a new start and a fresh beginning. So, it’s a must to spring clean the house before CNY. The act of cleaning the house is believed to ward off evil spirits, bad luck, and negativity. But, that’s not all.

This is where the colour red comes into the picture. If you’ve noticed, CNY is celebrated with lots of red decorations, whether it’s red lanterns, red firecrackers, red scrolls, or red angpaos. 

According to Chinese beliefs, there are lucky colours, such as red, that’s seen to be an Ong (auspicious) colour, bringing prosperity, energy, and good luck to start the year afresh.

Besides the fascination towards red, other colours considered lucky are yellow (royalty) and green (wealth).

#3. Everybody loves angpaos


Every CNY, one of the most anticipated activities would be the angpao-giving session. Typically married relatives or even friends would give their unmarried family members and friends red packets containing money, known as an angpao in Hokkien or Hong bao in Mandarin, wishing everyone a safe and peaceful year.

In a legend in ancient China, it was believed that the act of giving eight coins wrapped in red paper would suppress a demon called Sui from terrorising children. The tradition has transcended since then to giving out red packets during CNY. 

The word ‘ang’ is a Hokkien word which represents red, and is also related to what we’ve mentioned above, bringing good luck and prosperity to everyone. The amount of money in the envelope varies, but would usually be even numbers, such as 8 which, according to Chinese numerology, represents wealth and 6 which symbolises smoothness.

Never prepare an angpao which ends with a number 4 because in many Chinese cultures the number rhymes with the word ‘death’ which represents bad luck and is highly inauspicious!

#3a. How to scare a monster


Firecrackers give a great festive feel, but that’s not the only reason it gets put out fireworks during CNY.

The legend behind the CNY fireworks is that that there’s a yearly beast called the Nian Shou that comes every year to eat livestock, crops, and even human beings on CNY eve.

One day, a wise old man noticed that the Nian Shou is afraid of loud noises and red colours. From then on, it became a Chinese tradition to put out fireworks, hang red lanterns, and red scrolls.

Apart from fireworks, lion and dragon dances are also widely seen during CNY as it’s also believed to bring good fortune and prosperity as well as drive away evil spirits.

So, you now know what to do if you need to scare a monster!

So far we’ve come across all the ‘To Do’s’ of CNY, but do you know what are the ‘Don’ts’? As the Chinese believe that the start of the year affects the entire year, there are many inauspicious superstitions where many actions are forbidden during CNY. For example, sweeping, hair and clothes washing aren’t allowed on CNY day itself as it’s believed that it’d sweep away wealth and wash all the luck away. You should also avoid crying or wearing black and white clothes because it’s assumed to bring bad luck and may affect the entire year’s wellbeing. So, if you’re ever invited for an open house, remember to avoid doing any these!

The main idea of CNY is to allow everyone a chance to reunite with family members as great relationships are still built out of the time spent together. So, if you’ve the time, even outside of a festive season, spend more of it with your loved ones. Remember, you don’t

Sandra Goh is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Business (Hons) Finance & Economics at Taylor's University. She’s also the Vice President of Taylor’s Le French Club, Event Director of Taylor’s Business School Society (TBSS) & the Research Department Junior Executive of the Association of Malaysian Economics Undergraduate (AMEU).

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