Auspicious Phrases for Chinese New Years
“These are nice, compacted ways of wishing very generic and relatable positive thoughts during New Years. They are usually 4 character phrases… It is interesting that there is an entire canon of what you’re supposed to say at the event of greeting people during the New Year. There’s a certain ring to the way these phrases are said. And to be able to say these things, the more you’re able to say and the more pertinent they are to the recipient, the more impressive they are. Also, the more metaphorical they are and the more artful they are, the more impressive they are to the recipient.”
The informant who told me about these auspicious phrases was born and grew up in Hong Kong for a great part of his life. He speaks fluent Chinese and has had significant exposure to Chinese culture, given the fact that he and his family still speak the language and practice many of the traditional customs. He moved to the US in 5th grade.
出入平安 “Chu ru ping an”
“May you have peace wherever you enter and wherever you exit”
“Peace and safety to all who come and go”
This is said to someone who travels a lot, because it means you have peace both in and out. It is also popular to put over entranceways.
学业进步 “Xue ye jin bu”
“Improvement in studies”
This phrase is about good luck and success in academics. People say this when they greet each other during New Years, especially to younger people, students, who are indeed studying.
恭喜发财 “Gong xi fa cai”
“Congratulations on your luck”
People wish each other congratulations on New Years because of the old belief that there was a monster called “Nian” (which is a pun in and of itself because the Chinese word for “year” is “nian”) that would come out every New Year’s Eve and eat villagers. To survive that was good luck and something to be celebrated. In a more literal sense, the phrase is a pun, since it means “surviving” the year as well as surviving the monster. This is the traditional way of wishing “Happy New Year”, and is used most frequently in China.
新年快乐 “Xin nian kuai le”
“Happy New Year / New Year Happiness”
This is the modern way of saying “Happy New Year”. It is used more commonly now due to the fact that it comes closer to the meaning of the wester phrase of “Happy New Year”. This phrase is used more frequently in Hong Kong and the West.