Chinese New Year greetings
Many of us will soon be dressing up in red and making our rounds to our relatives’ homes in our annual Chinese New Year bai nian visits. For the unmarried, that means plenty of ang baos (yay!), and for everyone else, it’s time to stuff ourselves silly with pineapple tarts and bak kwa.
Don’t just utter “happy new year” in English and then run off with your red packets, though. Bring back some form of tradition this Lunar New Year, and impress everyone – especially your potential in-laws – by greeting them using proper Chinese phrases.
Here are some easy-to-remember CNY greetings for different groups of people you’ll encounter during this festive season – from your grandparents to your boss and younger cousins.
– Basic CNY greetings –
These fall under level 1 of Chinese New Year greetings, i.e. the most basic, commonly-heard ones that everyone who celebrates CNY and/or studied Mandarin in school should know. Can’t go wrong with these, even if you’re one of those jiak kentang people who claim their command of the language is atrocious.
1. 新年快乐 (xin nian kuai le)
As most of us know, this means “happy new year”. A foolproof greeting to rely on when the other more complicated ones slip your mind or twist your tongue.
2. 年年有余 (nian nian you yü)
Image credit: @tbgsoulmates
This has nothing to do with fish. “余” means abundance, so this means you’re wishing someone surplus – usually a surplus of money. But it sounds phonetically similar to “fish” in Mandarin, hence fish are a common motif of luck you see during Chinese New Year.
This also explains why there’s salmon in yu sheng – it’s a symbol of prosperity.
3. 恭喜发财 (gong xi fa cai)
Another must-know, used to wish wealth upon another person.
Add “紅包拿來” (hong bao na lai – bring over the red packets) at the end to create a fun rhyme, but with the possible risk of your ah mah scolding you.
4. 大吉大利 (da ji da li)
This basically means “good luck”. If it’s too much of a mouthful for you, it can also be shortened to 吉利.
5. 万事如意 (wan shi ru yi)
“万事” translates to “10,000 matters” – which is pretty much “everything”. “如意” can be translated to “as one desires”, or “to have your wishes fulfilled”.
In saying this phrase, you’re hoping for someone’s every wish and desire to be granted. *cue Genie in a Bottle by Christina Aguilera*
– CNY greetings for grandparents/older relatives –
Image credit: National Museum of Singapore
Generally, you’d want to wish your grandfolks and other elders a long, healthy life as they age.
6. 岁岁平安 (sui sui ping an)
To have peace in every year of one’s life. Because everyone wants to live drama-free.
7. 龙马精神 (long ma jing shen)
This literally translates to “spirit of the dragon and horse”, which relates to strength and vitality even in old age, since horses and dragons are thought to possess such qualities.
Say this to ah mah or ah gong and you’ll be a winner in their books.
8. 阖家欢乐 (he jia huan le)
A wish for happiness for the whole family.
This greeting is especially suitable for married couples with new additions to the family, or those with multiple offspring.
9. 长命百岁 (chang ming bai sui)
“百岁” means “a hundred years old”, which is a pretty great feat in human years. In saying this, you’re essentially wishing your elders a super long life.
10. 笑口常开 (xiao kou chang kai)
To be happy and smile often. 😊
– CNY greetings for colleagues & business partners –
When it comes to the corporate world, Chinese New Year greetings often revolve around money, success, and promotions.
11. 一帆风顺 (yi fan feng shun)
“风顺” means smooth winds, so the complete phrase can be taken as, “may everything be smooth-sailing”.
It can be used generically to bid someone an easy, chill life, or used to wish business associates smoothness in their work-related dealings.
12. 金玉滿堂 (jin yü man tang)
Conjuring images of opulence and lavishness, this means “gold and jade filling the halls”.
Here’s to rolling in riches! $$$$$
13. 财源滚滚 (cai yuan gun gun)
Image credit: @jellyfied
Another phrase that brings the idea of rolling in cash, this is directly translated as “billowing money”.
Crazy Rich Asians life, where are ya???
14. 平步青云 (ping bu qing yun)
“To have a meteoric rise”.
This is often related to career progression and promotions – perfect for your relative who has just started their first job or new career and is shooting for the stars.
15. 开业大吉 (kai ye da ji)
To wish success upon a newly-opened business, for those who have just kickstarted their own ventures.
– CNY greetings for students/younger relatives –
CNY greetings for kids and teenagers are kept relatively simple as they’re unlikely to understand complex cheng yu (4-character Chinese phrases). Besides, they’re usually more interested in receiving your moolah than anything. But anyhoo, you’ll still want to wish them well – especially when it comes to their studies.
16. 学业进步 (xue yue jin bu)
If you know a kid who needs to transform their Cs into As, use this to wish them academic progress and improvement.
17. 学业有成 (xue yue you cheng)
Similar to the previous, this phrase relates to academic success.
18. 精灵活泼 (jing ling huo po)
Not everything is about grades, though. You want your young niece or nephew to grow up bright, active, and healthy, so don’t leave this one out.
19. 情场得意 (qing chang de yi)
Have a cousin who’s bringing his or her new bae over for your reunion dinner? Say this to wish them the best of luck and happiness in their relationship.
20. 梦想成真 (meng xiang cheng zhen)
“May all your dreams come true” – this will be especially appreciated by an adolescent relative who is at the crossroads of life.
– Bonus: Rat-themed CNY greetings for 2020 –
Image credit: Kreta Ayer CC
2020 is the year of the rat in the Chinese zodiac, so go one step further and use some timely rat-themed ones such as “鼠年吉祥” (shu nian ji xiang) or “鼠年行大运” (shu nian xing da yun). Both mean “good luck in the year of the rat”, and the “鼠” can be interchanged with any other animal for future years.
If you’re slightly more proficient in the language, try a more levelled-up version with a mouse-related pun. “鼠”, the Chinese word for rat, sounds similar to “数”, the word for “count”. So base your greetings on that, with mention of counting riches or blessings.
An example: “鼠年数金数不完” (shu nian shu jin shu bu wan) – which loosely translates to, may you have uncountable riches in the year of the rat.
Simple Chinese New Year well-wishes
Even if you can’t memorise every single one of these Chinese New Year wishes, it’ll still be useful to remember at least one from each section so you’ll have something relevant up your sleeve for every person you encounter – be it your boss, parents’ friends, or young cousins who are still in school.
Who knows, you might even score extra points and earn more red packets this way.