27 January 2015

What to say for Chinese new year

You can't miss the festive feeling in mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong or Singapore this time of year. Lucky red and gold objects are on sale everywhere. Chinese new year falls on February 19 in 2015, and you'll be greeting or greeted in auspicious language from the first day till the 15th of the lunar new year. 

The most common greetings you'll hear are 新年快乐 (xin nian kuai le), 'happy new year' and 恭喜发财 (gong xi fa cai), 'congratulations on receiving riches and prosperity'. 

Riches a recurrent theme in Chinese culture, especially around Chinese new year. Fortune-related greetings for businesses include 财源广进  (cai yuan guang jin), or 'may riches enter in huge volumes', and 生意興隆/生意兴隆 (sheng yi xing long), or 'may the business thrive greatly'. 年年有餘/年年有馀 (nian nian you yu), 'surpluses every year', as well as 马到成功 (ma dao cheng gong), 'instant success', are spot on both for businesses and individuals.

马到成功 was especially apt in 2014, the lunar year of the horse, as the character for horse, 马, begins the greeting, but it can be used at any other time as well. There were also a number of puns on 'immediately', 上 (ma shang), which can also be taken to be 'on the horse'; many shops were selling horse figurines with money and other things on a horse as a wish for immediate fortune.

Advertisement from Kallang Wave
featuring 喜气羊羊 as a greeting.

2015 is the year of the goat (or sheep), and there are a few festive greetings that take advantage of how the word for goat, 羊 (yang), is a homonym found in various Chinese idioms. 阳光灿烂 (yang guang can lan) is a wish for bright sunlight or a bright future; 喜气洋洋, converted to 喜气羊羊 (xi qi yang yang) for the year, refers to happiness everywhere; while 羊羊得意, really 洋洋得意 (yang yang de yi), is a wish that the recipient will get whatever he or she wants, in the best way possible.

There are business-oriented greetings which mention the specific zodiac animal, such as 年大吉 (yang nian da ji), 'great fortune in the year of the goat', and 年行大运 (yang nian da yun), 'great luck in the year of the goat'. 发财 (yang nian fa cai), 'welcome fortune in the year of the goat' is equally auspicious. Just substitute the underlined character with the appropriate animal for other years. 

Beyond these traditional greetings are some which are more relevant to those working. 新年进步 (xin nian jin bu), which means 'making progress in the new year', 心想事成 (xin xiang shi cheng), 'may your wishes come true', and the simple 工作顺利 (gong zuo shun li), 'may your work go smoothly', will all be well received. 事业有成 (shi ye you cheng) 'success in what you're working on' and 平步青云 (ping bu qing yun), 'an easy path to a meteoric rise' are equally auspicious.

If you can't remember too many greetings, don't worry - a simple 'happy new year' is fine. The whole idea is to start off the year right, and it's traditional to hope for fortune, prosperity and success. Don't mention anything negative, and you'll be fine. 万事如意 (wan shi ru yi), 'may all things be as you wish'!