Having colleagues, customers or partners from other cultures is common nowadays. And ‘diversity’ seems to be one of the buzzwords we hear at companies. Are you a Finn with a colleague in China? What about the other way around? Are you a Singaporean, with customers in Nordic countries? What do you know, as a European, or a Nordic person, about Chinese New Year( Lunar New Year)? We answer the most-asked questions here!
Do you sometimes notice yourself asking ‘oh, is it some kind of a holiday in Singapore today?’ or when you find yourself explaining to the colleague ‘We are away next Friday, it’s the mid-summer, well yeah we know it’s not the middle of summer but it’s a holiday to celebrate…’
It often comes as a surprise even to us, with a whole team in Singapore. HUONE has a pretty international team; It is not entirely because we are a fast-growth Finnish company with units outside of Finland, but it’s rather because we value diversity in our teams (In fact, HUONE Helsinki is recognised as ‘the Most Successful Multicultural Company’ in 2017). So, we took advantage of our diverse team, and started asking questions; “what do you know about Chinese New Year? What would you like to know about it?” This article is what we’ve compiled, answers to the questions from both sides.
1. When is it?
Isn’t it in February or maybe in January? Is it just for that one day or…?
-Helmi, Event Coordinator, HUONE Helsinki
Well, she isn’t completely wrong! This year, it is January 25th, next year in 2021, it will be February 12th. Also, keep in mind that it is NOT just a one-day holiday. Chinese New Year date changes every year because it follows the lunar calendar. We won’t go into details of how lunar calendar works, its history, but if you are curious, you could read more here. This also answers the question of why it’s celebrated: the new year in China and several other Asian countries signifies a fresh start. It commemorates the beginning of a new year with hopes for prosperity and success.
2. Where in the world exactly do you celebrate it?
It’s celebrated by more than a quarter of the world’s population! Mainland China is likely to pop up in your mind, but other South-East Asian countries, such as Malaysia, China, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, celebrate Chinese New Year too. So, it is actually not such a rare case that you would have a colleague, partner, suppliers, customers, who celebrate it.
3. So, is it like Christmas? How important is it?
Chinese New Year (or Lunar New Year) is considered a major, if not the most important holiday of the year in these countries. And yes, exactly like Christmas. If you imagine Christmas time, you get the feeling of the holiday more or less. Regardless of different religions, race, or cities, it is considered an important holiday, and the time of the year. It is a national holiday, which means, you will be able to take time off from work. The businesses stop and inter-city traffic is known to be the worst during this holiday, so it is probably wise to avoid if you are thinking about visiting (Tip: in Singapore, it could be the opposite and roads are clear because a lot of people are on leave!).
4. How do you celebrate? What do you do?
Food, food and food! (and Family). Somebody said a holiday miracle would be still fitting into my clothes after the holiday…
It is celebrated in different ways across Asia, and there are different rituals such as visiting ancestors tombs, lion dances etc. However, broadly speaking, food is very much in the centre of the celebration. In other words, it is time for those feasts and the cute holiday bellies (reminds you of Christmas?). Several days are reserved for visiting families, relatives, and dining as well as for giving gifts. Often there are fantastic fireworks and many other festivities around the city. Most of the shops are closed and a lot of the restaurants will be packed with groups, so planning is a must!
Authentic Chinese food, traditional lion dance, firecrackers, Ang Pao’s (little red packets with money), some decent gambling – a very complete Chinese New Year celebration”– Navin, Operations Manager, HUONE Singapore
Toss for good luck!
One of the Chinese traditions during the Lunar New Year is to have ‘Lo Hei.’ You wish for a good year ahead while tossing and mixing the ingredients. It’s a raw fish salad mixed with colorful shredded vegetables. You never know, maybe you will secure a big customer? Why not try it? What’s there to lose?
(HUONE Singapore team celebrating the Chinese New Year in 2018)
5. Do I have to prepare something for my Chinese colleague?
Gift-giving to mark major holidays such as Lunar New Year is a common practice when doing businesses in East Asian countries. Companies give out presents to their employees and key customers such as tea, food hampers, and etc. Similar to Christmas present in Europe, during the lunar new year, people give out red envelopes with money to family members (usually are given by married individuals), particularly children, as a meaning of blessing for the new year.
(left: Evon, the founder of HUONE, wishing HUONE a successful year, right: ready to give out red envelopes to kids)
However, do not worry! People would not expect something from you if they know you don’t celebrate the same holiday. Just kind words acknowledging the holiday and wishing your friend/colleague/partner a prosperous new year ahead would be enough. Of course, if you happened to be around that time of the year in one of the countries, you are likely to be invited to dinner. Here is a compiled list of tips for you to score a good impression in front of your colleagues and partners.
You might be curious about what you should wear for such an occasion. Rule of thumb is to go with something bright! Stay away from white or black.
+Do different animals play any role?
I heard some people say ‘it’s the year of the pig!’ last year, but I didn’t know what that meant
– Meri, Marketing Manager, Helsinki
Well, Chinese Zodiac signs are an integral part of the culture, and often play a role in the celebration of the Chinese New Year. There are 12 of them, and you can think of them as Chinese horoscope signs, as each animal represents different attributes of a person. For instance, the Year 2020 is the year of the rat. So, babies born this year will have traits such as strong-willed, curious, and stubborn. If you are curious about what your animal is, check below.
(recent zodiac sign years)
What’s New Year like in the Nordics?
Well, after celebrating Christmas with the whole family or many families with relatives, the Nordics like to spend New Year’s Eve with our friends. Of course, there are drinks and food involved.
It is quite common to gather at a friend’s place or rent a place such as a cottage/a villa with a group of friends to welcome the new year. Usually, some fireworks and sparkling wine are on the packing list. So, we tend to layer up, put on our winter hat and gloves, and go outside. There are usually fireworks around the city as well, so it is also easy to see them.
We usually celebrate the night with friends
– go out for dinner, or a private party focusing on good food, wine, cocktails etc.
-Josephine, Marketing Assistant, HUONE Copenhagen
What about giving presents?
It used to be very common for companies to send a holiday greeting cards to all their customers and partners with a small present. Nowadays, we see more and more companies take a more responsible and holistic approach to giving. Many companies celebrate the festive season by taking initiatives such as hosting a charity event for their local communities, donating money for the good cause, and so on. Instead of giving out Christmas cards, or buying presents, how about a gift of giving?
Lastly, if you don’t know, but curious, simply just ask!
We believe this is the key! Your colleague or friend will be more than happy to tell you more about one’s culture, holidays, and traditions. Everyone enjoys sharing something special to one.
* It’s written mainly based on the interviews of our team members, and we are aware they do not represent all. So, do let us know if there are any other interesting and important information you would like to share on this topic!