Chinese New Year 2019: Pigs, luck and why you should avoid medicine, laundry and crying children

Cameron Macphail
A craftswoman paints a lantern in the shape of a pig in Jinan, China, on January 9, 2019 - Visual China Group

Chinese New Year is nearly here – and with it comes a host of superstitions that will apparently dictate how the next 12 months will play out for each of us.

Cleaning clothes, using scissors and sweeping floors are some of the easier omens to sidestep, however parents might find it difficult to dodge crying children and – on the more extreme end of the scale – women might find it difficult to avoid leaving the house all day.

According to Chinese superstition, doing any of these on February 5th – the day Chinese New Year falls on in 2019 – will lead to bad luck for the entire coming year. However it isn’t all doom and gloom: 2019 is the Year of the Pig, an animal which symbolises wealth.

Here is everything you need to know about the annual celebration, as well as recipes to cook for a delicious family feast and why the Year of the Pig will be more lucky for some than others.

When is Chinese New Year?

The annual celebration begins on the new moon that comes between 21 January and 20 February. The next Chinese year will start on February 5th 2019 and end on January 24th 2020, when the Year of the Rat begins.

The new year, also known in China as the Spring Festival, is marked by the lunisolar Chinese calendar; this means the date changes from year to year. 

The festivities usually start the day before the new year and continue until the Lantern Festival, the 15th day of the new year.   

The Chinese zodiac is divided into 12 blocks (or houses) just like its western counterpart, but with the major difference that each house has a time-length of one year instead of one month. 

Each Chinese New Year is characterised by one of 12 animals which appear in the Chinese zodiac – the current one is the Year of the Dog and the next one is the Year of the Pig.

Which Chinese zodiac sign are you? 

Your sign is derived from the year you were born in the Chinese lunar calendar. 

  • Rat: 2008, 1996, 1984, 1972, 1960 
  • Ox: 2009, 1997, 1985, 1973, 1961 
  • Tiger: 2010, 1998, 1986, 1974, 1962 
  • Rabbit: 2011, 1999, 1987, 1975, 1963 
  • Dragon: 2012, 2000, 1988, 1976, 1964 
  • Snake: 2013, 2001, 1989, 1977, 1965 
  • Horse: 2014, 2002, 1990, 1978, 1966 
  • Sheep: 2015, 2003, 1991, 1979, 1967 
  • Monkey: 2016, 2004, 1992, 1980, 1968 
  • Rooster: 2017, 2005, 1993, 1981, 1969 
  • Dog: 2018, 2006, 1994, 1982, 1970 
  • Pig: 2019, 2007, 1995, 1983, 1971   

The years above are a rough guide; bear in mind that if you were born in January or February it may be slightly different as the new year moves between January 21 and February 20.

The years allocated to each animal are in a very specific order. According to an ancient Chinese folk story, the Jade Emperor had called 13 animals to a meeting and announced that the years on the calendar would be named according to the order they arrived in. This led to ‘The Great Race’. 

The rat travelled on the back of the ox, leaping from its back to nab first place. The pig stopped for a snack and a nap and arrived last; a cat was also in the race but drowned during the competition, leading to there being only 12 animals in the zodiac.

Who should be on his guard this year

According to Chinese astrology, the year of your sign is believed to be one of the most unlucky years of your life. This doesn’t bode well for anyone born in previous Years of the Pig. Famous names who should be wary include the Duchess of Cornwall (1947), Elton John (1947), Hillary Clinton (1947), Simon Cowell (1959), Alan Sugar (1947) and David Tennant (1971).

Amy Winehouse (1983) was also born in the Year of the Pig, as well as Elvis Presley (1935) and David Bowie (1947).

The Duchess of Cornwall and Elton John, pictured here in 2002, were both born in the Year of the Pig Credit: Matthew Fearn/WPA ROTA

Lucky Signs for the Pig

Lucky numbers for people born in the Year of the Pig are two, five and eight and their lucky colours are yellow, grey, brown and gold. Their lucky flowers are daisies and hydrangeas and their lucky directions are east and southwest. 

The personality of the Pig

People born in the Year of the Pig are characterised as motivated, honest and enthusiastic. They concentrate on their goals and devote their energy to achieve them. They are generous and helpful towards others and strive for positions of power and status. While those born in the Year of the Pig do not waste their money, they are not afraid to treat themselves every so often and as a result may be deemed materialistic. 

Strengths: Diligent, compassionate, generous and calm

Weaknesses: Gullible, over-friendly and quiet

Why do the Chinese value Pigs?

Pigs symbolise luck, wealth, honesty and prosperity to the Chinese. Their chubby faces and large ears represent good fortune and the zodiac creature is always well-fed and looked after by others. They are thought to be lucky from birth and as a result Chinese families believe their sons born in the Year of the Pig are fortunate.

As pigs tend to have large litters, the Chinese say they are a sign of virility and couples trying for babies often display the symbol in their bedrooms in hope of conceiving.

A person born in the Year of the Pig is thought to be blessed with wealth and is considered to be a hard-working, sociable and reliable individual, with a good sense of humour. Men tend to be optimistic, gentle and quiet while women are excitable, organised and caring.

What does your Chinese zodiac sign mean? 

In Chinese astrology, the 12 animal zodiac signs each have unique characteristics. 

  • Rat: Intelligence, adaptability, quick-wit, charm, artistry, gregariousness. 
  • Ox: Loyalty, reliability, thoroughness, strength, reasonability, steadiness, determination. 
  • Tiger: Enthusiasm, courage, ambition, leadership, confidence, charisma. 
  • Rabbit: Trustworthiness, empathy, modesty, diplomacy, sincerity, sociability.
  • Dragon: Luckiness, flexibility, eccentricity, imagination, artistry, spirituality, charisma. 
  • Snake: Philosophical, organised, intelligent, intuitive, elegant, attentive, decisive. 
  • Horse: Adaptable, loyal, courageous, ambitious, intelligent,  adventurous, strong. 
  • Sheep: Tasteful, crafty, warm, elegant, charming, intuitive, sensitive, calm. 
  • Monkey: Quick-witted, charming, lucky, adaptable, bright, versatile, lively, smart. 
  • Rooster: Honest, energetic, intelligent, flamboyant, flexible, diverse, confident. 
  • Dog: Loyal, sociable, courageous, diligent, steady, lively, adaptable, smart. 
  • Pig: Honorable, philanthropic, determined, optimistic, sincere, sociable. 

Popular Chinese New Year Greetings 

If you want to get into the swing of the festivities but don’t have the foggiest how to decipher Mandarin characters, here is our handy guide to the most essential phrases.

1. 新年快乐 / 新年快樂 (xīn nián kuài lè) “Happy New Year!”

In Mandarin: /sshin-nyen kweye-luh/

In Cantonese:  /san nin fai lok/

2. 新年好 / 新年好 (Xīn nián hǎo) “New Year goodness!” 

In Mandarin: /sshin-nyen haoww/

In Cantonese: /sen-nin haow/ 

3. 恭喜发财 / 恭喜發財 (Gōngxǐ fācái) “Happiness and prosperity!” 

In Mandarin: /gong-sshee faa-tseye/  

In Cantonese: Kunghei fatchoy /gong-hey faa-chwhy/ 

4. 步步高升 / 步步高陞 (Bùbù gāoshēng)  “A steady rise to high places!” / “on the up and up”

In Mandarin: /boo-boo gaoww-shnng /  

In Cantonese: /boh-boh goh-sshin /

Dancers from the Central Ethnic Song and Dance Ensemble perform during a Chinese New Year celebration in Trafalgar Square, London Credit: Fiona Hanson/PA Wire

Chinese New Year traditions

In preparation for the new year, the Chinese will clean their homes and put up red decorations and lanterns.

The celebrations will then officially kick off with a New Year’s Eve family dinner, with fish and dumplings being served to encourage prosperity.

Shou Sui, which translates as “after the New Year's Eve dinner”, follows the traditional feast, where families stay awake throughout the night and gather for fireworks at midnight to banish evil.

Adults typically give children red packets containing money at Chinese New Year, to help them avoid the evil and wish them good health.

Chinese New Year's Day taboos 

There are many superstitions surrounding Chinese New Year. These are to be avoided on the first day of the festival:

  1. Medicine: Taking medicine on the first day of the lunar year means one will get ill for a whole year. 
  2. Porridge: It is considered that only poor people have porridge for breakfast – and people don’t want to start the year “poor”. 
  3. Laundry: People do not wash clothes on the first and second day because these two days are celebrated as the birthday of Shuishen (水神,  the Water God).
  4. Washing hair: Hair must not be washed on the first day of the lunar  year. In the Chinese language, hair (发) has the same pronunciation and  character as ‘fa’ in facai (发财), which means ‘to become wealthy’.  Therefore, it is seen as not a good thing to “wash one’s fortune away”  at the beginning of the New Year.
  5. Sharp objects: The use of knives and scissors is to be avoided as any accident is thought to lead to inauspicious things and the depletion of  wealth.
  6. Going out: A woman may not leave her house otherwise she will be plagued with bad luck for the entire coming year. A married daughter is not allowed to visit the house of her parents as this is believed to  bring bad luck to the parents, causing economic hardship for the family.
  7. The broom: If you sweep on this day then your wealth will be swept away too.
  8. Crying children: The cry of a child is believed to bring bad luck to the family so parents do their best to keep children as happy as  possible.
  9. Theft: Having your pocket picked is believed to portend your whole  wealth in the coming year being stolen.
  10. Debt: Money should not be lent on New Year’s Day and all debts have to be paid by New Year’s Eve. If someone owes you money, do not go to their home to demand it. Anyone who does so will be unlucky all year.
  11. An empty rice jar: A depleted receptacle may cause grave anxiety as the cessation of cooking during the New Year period is considered to be an ill omen.
  12. Damaged clothes: Wearing threadbare garments can cause more bad luck for the year.
  13. Killing things: Blood is considered an ill omen, which will cause misfortunes such as a knife wound or a bloody disaster. 
  14. Monochrome fashion: White or black clothes are barred as these two colours are traditionally associated with mourning.
  15. Giving of certain gifts: Clocks, scissors, and pears all have a bad meaning in Chinese culture.  

How to celebrate in the UK

In what is set to be the biggest celebration outside Asia, thousands of people are expected to join in with the array of celebrations in London on February 10, the first Sunday after Chinese New Year.

Colourful floats will pass through the streets of the West End and Chinatown along with dragon and lion dances, as part of the vibrant Chinese New Year parade.

London residents and tourists can enjoy family-friendly entertainment in Leicester Square, cultural activities and traditional cuisine in Chinatown and music, street food stalls and other live performances in Trafalgar Square.

Martial art performances will also be shown at Shaftesbury Avenue and visitors to Chinatown have the opportunity to grab a selfie with one of the Chinese zodiac animals.

Elsewhere in the country, The Dragon Parade and fireworks will be held in Albert Square, Manchester, while in Edinburgh a celebratory concert is to be held at the Usher Hall.

Where to eat

From Hunanese dishes to Cantonese classics, British-Chinese food experts to reveal their favourite restaurants around the country. 

...or what to cook at home

Diana Henry: The essential spices and sauces to upgrade your Chinese cooking

Credit: Alamy

From which vinegar to use to the ideal noodles and fried parcel wrappers, Kei Lum Chan and Diora Fong Chan advise Diana on which products create the most authentic tastes and textures. 

Shanghai stir-fried chunky noodles

Shanghai stir-fried chunky noodles

This Shanghainese dish is made with thick, bouncy noodles like fresh Japanese udon, which are given a dark caramel tint by soy sauce and freshened up with barely cooked greens.

Cool steamed aubergine with a garlicky dressing

Cool steamed aubergine with a garlicky dressing

Steaming brings out a gentle, unfamiliar side to a vegetable that is more commonly fried, baked or grilled, and, simple as they are, the seasonings taste sublime.

How to make a traditional Jiaozi dumpling

Dumpling

Chef Jason Li demonstrates how to make make a traditional Jiaozi dumpling, which is eaten with friends and family at Chinese New Year.

Chicken fried rice

Credit: PROMO GROUP 2011 / MARTIN POPE / CAMERA PRESS

Ken Hom reveals his trick for quick and tasty fried rice.