chinese new year vocabulary

Top 12 Chinese New Year Vocabulary Words and Traditions (Updated for 2023)

Wearing red, eating dumplings, giving and receiving red envelopes—Chinese New Year traditions are vastly different from those in the West.

Why wear red? Well, it brings good luck and wards off evil.

Eating dumplings is a tradition because they resemble ancient Chinese currency. It’s lucky since the dumplings represent wealth and a prosperous future.

And giving money in red envelopes brings good luck.

In this post, you’ll learn the 12 must-know Chinese New Year vocabulary words to enjoy (and understand) this different but fascinating Chinese holiday.


1. 农历新年 (nóng lì xīn nián) — Lunar New Year

chinese new year vocabulary

Starting with the most essential, 农历新年 is one of the most common names for this important Chinese holiday.

(jīn nián nóng lì xīn nián zài yī yuè.)
This year, Lunar New Year is in January.

2. 春节 (chūn jié) — Spring Festival

chinese new year vocabulary

Another name for Chinese New Year is 春节, which literally means “Spring Festival.”

(chūn jié shì zhōng guó de zhòng yào jié rì.)
Spring Festival is an important holiday in China.

3. 新年快乐 (xīn nián kuài lè) — Happy New Year

A necessary phrase to learn for the occasion, you’ll hear this Chinese New Year greeting all the time.

(zhù nǐ xīn nián kuài lè!)
Wish you a Happy New Year!

4. 恭喜发财 (gōng xǐ fā cái) — Wish You Wealth (“Kung Hei Fat Choi”)

chinese new year vocabulary

You’ve got to know this phrase no matter what end you’re on. If you’re on the receiving end (getting the red envelope), learn it or you won’t get one. If you’re on the giving end, know it since it’d be embarrassing to not give it.

(zuì cháng yòng de hè nián yǔ jiù shì gōng xǐ fā cái.)
The most commonly used New Year’s phrase is kung hei fat choi.

5. 回老家 (huí lǎo jiā) — Return to Hometown

chinese new year vocabulary

The Chinese usually return to their hometown where the elders (usually grandparents) live and celebrate with their family.

(jīn nián shì wǒ zhǎng dà hòu dì yī cì huí lǎo jiā.)
This is the first year going back to my hometown since I’ve grown up.

6. 饺子 (jiǎo zi) — Dumplings

chinese new year vocabulary

It’s a tradition to eat dumplings during Chinese New Year’s. Families will often make them from scratch.

(wǒ méi yǒu chī guò jiǎo zi, hěn xiǎng cháng cháng tā de wèi dào.)
I have not eaten dumplings before, I really want to try their taste.

7. 红包 (hóng bāo) — Red Envelope

chinese new year vocabulary

Red envelopes will be given during Chinese New Year’s, weddings and birthdays. Usually parents, grandparents and other elders will give red envelopes to children and those that aren’t married.

(kuài guò nián le, wǒ gěi nín fā ge hóng bāo.)
It’s almost New Year’s, I’ll give you a red envelope.

8. 放鞭炮 (fàng biān pào) — To Set Off Firecrackers

chinese new year vocabulary

The Chinese set off firecrackers because they’re supposed to scare away evil spirits. It’s a great and fun way to start off the new year.

(shuō qǐ guò nián, rén men zì rán jiù huì xiǎng qǐ fàng biān pào.)
When speaking of New Year’s, people will automatically think of setting off firecrackers.

9. 守夜 (shǒu yè) — Staying up Until Midnight (or All Night)

chinese new year vocabulary

Similar to families that will stay up until midnight for Christmas (to open presents) or New Year’s as they celebrate out in Times Square, the Chinese will stay up through the night as well.

(hěn duō zhōng guó rén yǒu xīn nián shǒu yè de xí guàn.)
Many Chinese people have the habit of holding a New Year‘s vigil.

10. 舞狮 (wǔ shī) — Lion Dance

chinese new year vocabulary

You’ve seen those lions dancing around and blinking their eyes at major parades. These lion dances are a major part of celebrating the New Year.

(wǔ shī zì rán shì chūn jié lǐ zuì shòu rén xǐ’ ài de biǎo yǎn huó dòng.)
Lion dancing is naturally the New Year’s most adored performance and activity.

11. 拜年 (bài nián) — To Say “Happy New Year”/To Make a New Year Call

chinese new year vocabulary

Often children will say Happy New Year and wish their elders wealth, prosperity and good health in return for a 红包.

(wǒ men tiān liàng jiù yào chū mén qù bài nián le.)
At dawn, we should leave to wish others a Happy New Year.

12. 生肖 (shēng xiào) — Chinese Zodiac

chinese new year vocabulary

The Chinese zodiac has 12 different animals that change every year. 2023 is the year of the rabbit.

(shí èr shēng xiào, shì zhōng guó chuán tǒng wén huà de zhòng yào bù fèn.)
The twelve zodiac signs are a part of China’s culture and tradition.


Learning these 12 Chinese New Year vocabulary phrases will deepen your understanding of Chinese culture and bring you closer to fluency.

You’ll hear them 24/7 during the New Year, whether you’re staying in China or chatting with your Chinese language partner. They come up in conversations, news stories and of course, the Chinese New Year songs.

And if you aren’t in China this January, experience Lunar New Year from home. You can watch multiple videos on programs like FluentU, for example—search for any of these 12 phrases, and you’ll get a curated list of authentic Chinese videos that use them in context.


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