Useful Phrases for Spring Festival Celebrations

春节 / Chūn jié (Spring Festival / Chinese New Year) is the most colorful, festive holiday on China’s calendar. There’s no sleeping through the thunder of firecrackers on Chinese New Year’s eve, as the whole nation welcomes in the Lunar New Year.

As a foreigner in China, it’s likely you’ll be invited to join your公司年会 / gōngsī nián huì (company annual meeting). If you have a close Chinese friend or partner, you might even be invited to a团圆饭 / tuányuán fàn (the New Year’s Eve family reunion).

To equip you for both scenarios, we’ve put together some handy phrases, plus a few cultural tidbits.

公司年会 / gōngsī nián huì / Company Annual Meeting

The general purpose of the 公司年会 is to celebrate the past Lunar year of business, and look forward to the next. Speeches will be made to summarize the company’s achievements and plans, and to recognize outstanding employees. There may be a lucky draw and, very often, there’ll be a whole program of dancing, singing and other performances. You may well be roped into getting up on stage too, so be prepared to get involved!

Useful phrases for公司年会:

Chinese Pinyin English
新年快乐! Xīnnián kuàilè! Happy New Year!
干杯 gānbēi! Cheers!
同事们,我给大家敬酒,为我们老板干杯! Tóngshìmen, wǒ gěi dàjiā jìngjiǔ wèi wǒmen lǎobǎn –gānbēi! Colleagues, I’d like to make a toast to our boss – cheers!
明年有什么打算? Míngnián yǒu shénme dǎsuàn? What are your goals/resolutions for the New Year?
今年年会你表演什么节目? Jīnnián nián huì nǐ biǎoyǎn shénme jiémù At this year’s annual party, what will you perform?
你在年会上表演的节目真棒! Nǐ zài nián huì shàng biǎoyǎn de jiémù zhēn bàng! Your performance at the annual party was fantastic!

年夜饭/ niányè fàn / Chinese New Year’s Eve Family Meal

The 年夜饭/ niányè fàn or团圆饭/ tuányuán fàn is held on Chinese New Year’s Eve with the family (团圆饭 is literally “reunion meal”). It’s a leisurely paced meal either at home or in a restaurant, with an array of dishes, lots of chatting and general family fun. Everyone, including kids, then stays up until midnight to see in the new Lunar Year and set off a storm of firecrackers (the tradition is to use the loud bangs to scare off evil spirits from the New Year).

Useful phrases for年夜饭:

Chinese Pinyin English
过年好! guònián hǎo! Happy New Year! (use as a greeting instead of 你好)
新年快乐! Xīnnián kuàilè! Happy New Year!
需要脱鞋子吗? xūyào tuō xiézi ma? Should I take my shoes off? [upon arriving at a home]
这是一点小意思,希望你喜欢 zhè shì yīdiǎn xiǎoyìsi, xīwàng nǐ xǐhuan. This is a small gift. I hope you like it.
吃不下了! chībuxià le! I can’t eat any more!
你做的菜特别好吃! ni zuo de cài tèbié hǎochī! The food you cooked was really good!
祝你们身体健康,长命百岁! Zhù nǐmen shēntǐ jiànkāng, cháng mìng bǎi suì! I wish you all good health and a longevity!
您身体怎么样?/ 您身体挺好的? nín shēntǐ zěnmeyàng ? / nín shēntǐ tǐng hǎo de? How is your health? (to ask senior people how they’re doing)
学习怎么样? xuéxí zěnmeyàng ? How are your studies going? (to ask kids)
最近在哪儿发财? / 您在哪儿高就? zuìjìn zài nǎr fācái ? / nín zài nǎr gāojiù ? How’s working been going?

Any particular etiquette to watch out for during these celebrations?

  • Let senior members sit and start eating first.
  • When you clink glasses with others, your cup edge should be lower than others’. This is to show your respect.
  • Gifts are customary at the年夜饭, so bring along fruit (such as apples, which symbolize peace and safety), wine, or tea.
  • You’ll want to prepare 红包 / hóngbāo for the kids, which are the red envelopes containing cash.

Don’t worry about getting it all right though! As a 外宾 / wàibīn (foreign guest), you’ll find Chinese are very hospitable and grateful for any amount of effort you make to join in.

Embrace the feasting and the firecrackers, and enjoy. 新年快乐!

Sarah Soulié

Sarah Souli é is British and lives in Los Angeles, after six years in Shanghai working in online marketing within EdTech. She has been learning Chinese since 2008, and currently contributes to the Speak Up Chinese blog. Speak Up Chinese is a newly-launched service based in Beijing. Their mission is to help you speak authentic Chinese with confidence, through 1-1 and group online lessons.