Music in Chinese New Year

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While most of us already rang in the new year back in January, a large portion of the world’s population is currently in the midst of preparing for the lunar new year, often referred to as Chinese New Year. This year, February 19 marks the Chinese New Year and the start of the Year of the Sheep. Since the lunar calendar doesn’t line up exactly with the Gregorian calendar, the lunar new year often falls between mid-January and mid-February.

With the Year of the Sheep rapidly approaching, children and adults alike are excitedly anticipating the epic celebrations and festivals honoring the holiday. Red banners decorate front doors, paper lanterns adorn the streets, and choruses of “Gong Xi, Gong Xi” are repeated over and over for all to hear. Much like Christmas music in North America, Chinese New Year music is an entire genre of its own. There are countless songs in several languages that celebrate the lunar new year, and are sung every year at this time.

For those who speak Mandarin, “Gong Xi, Gong Xi” is arguably the most stereotypical and representative song of Chinese New Year, especially among children. The title and chorus of the song come from the Mandarin greeting for Chinese New Year: “Gong xi!” This phrase literally translates to “Congratulations,” but it actually has a different message in this context. The meaning behind this phrase is rather a wish of joy, well-being, and fortune, and this song expresses the overall mood and vibrance everyone feels around the lunar new year.

Chinese New Year celebrations, whether in North America or Asia, are always lively, slightly chaotic, and incredibly exciting. It’s nearly impossible to convey the energy brewing in the atmosphere; it’s something you just have to experience. If you ever have the chance to attend a Chinese New Year celebration, be prepared for amazing food, several performances of the dragon dance, lots of loud talking, and of course, the distribution of red envelopes!

For those who don’t know, possibly the most important tradition of Chinese New Year is the giving of red envelopes. As we wish everyone a prosperous new year, we also present them with a red envelope filled with cash. In general, the amount of money will be an even number and will be given in new bills for a nice, crisp presentation. However, due to the homophonic similarity between the Mandarin words for “four” and “death,” we never give an amount with the number four in it (i.e. $4, $14, $40, etc.). The amount of money enclosed in these envelopes usually depends on the relation between the giver and the receiver; close relatives are usually quite a bit more generous than family friends, for example.

Hoping the Year of the Sheep brings you much happiness and fortune, I wish you all a Happy Chinese New Year! 恭喜發財 !

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Music in Chinese New Year: Photograph Happy Chinese New Year by Android Caishen by Yang and Yun’s Album