Happy Chinese New Year everyone!
This weekend you may have a line-up of Chinese New Year get-togethers with elders, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, and everyone in between. Of course, it’s fun to see family and friends, and maybe score a hong bao red envelope or two (or three or ten), but Chinese New Year courtesies can sometimes fall to the wayside in all the eating and shouting across the room. Especially if you’ve got a big family like mine!
So, it’s time to brush up on your Chinese New Year greetings! You might think that the only greeting you needs is a simple and polite “Happy New Year!” But here at The Woks of Life, we’re going tiger parents on you with THE comprehensive list of common Chinese New Year greetings and useful phrases to spread that new year prosperity around!
What is Chinese New Year?
Yes, it’s the mark of the lunar new year, but here are some other details to brush up on!
In China, Chinese New Year is known as chūnjié (春节), or Spring Festival. While it’s the coldest time of the year, it marks the turn-around in seasons, when people begin to look forward to spring (and in the old days, new planting). It symbolizes new beginnings and fresh starts.
While we often say Chinese New Year, the holiday is referred to as Lunar New Year globally with Asian countries like Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam celebrating based on the traditional lunar calendar. That said, there is no set date on the Gregorian calendar, and the holiday begins on a different day each year, but always in January or February.
What Does Gong Hei Fat Choy Mean?
When I was growing up, the most common greeting by far was, “gong hei fat choy,” the Cantonese pronunciation of 恭喜发财 (gōngxǐ fācái in Mandarin), and it’s likely that many people, Chinese or otherwise, have heard this phrase at one point. The greeting means something along the lines of “wishing you prosperity and good fortune.”
This greeting is more common in Hong Kong and wherever the Cantonese dialect is commonly spoken. Back in the 60s and 70s, most of the Chinese immigrants in the U.S. and abroad were Cantonese speakers. Just about every Chinese immigrant back then moved to America looking for a better life, to prosper and get rich!
Mandarin vs. Cantonese Pronunciation
That said, Mandarin (pǔtōnghuà, the common language) is the official standard language of China and the most commonly spoken dialect, so it’s most important to know greetings in Mandarin.
That said, Cantonese is still the preferred dialect in Hong Kong and many other regions, and since I come from a Cantonese-speaking family (as do many Chinese Americans), I included some phonetic Cantonese pronunciations in addition to the Mandarin. But most Cantonese speakers will understand Mandarin, and Cantonese uses the same Chinese characters.
The Cantonese phrasings may be non-standard, as I haven’t read up on Jyupting, a standard romanization system for Cantonese pronunciation, but they get the job done! Cantonese pronunciation can be quite a bit more difficult to learn, as it has 9 tones while Mandarin has 4 tones, but I’m pretty sure you’ll get an A for effort from any Cantonese speakers who are sure to be in high spirits for the holiday!
23 Common Chinese New Year Greetings
1. 新年快乐 – Happy Chinese New Year
The most common greeting used during the Chinese New Year is a simple “Happy New Year,” also used during our regular Jan 1st new year.
Mandarin: xīn nián kuài lè
Cantonese: sun nin fai lok
2. 新年好 – Happy Chinese New Year (simple version)
You may also hear other ways to say happy new year, like this simplified version, which essentially means, “good new year.”
Mandarin: xīnnián hǎo
Cantonese: sun nin ho
3. 春节快乐 – Happy Spring Festival
Since Chinese New Year is also known as the Spring Festival in mainland China, you can also express “Happy New Year” as “Happy Spring Festival.
Mandarin: chūnjié kuàilè
Cantonese: tsun zit fai lok
4. 祝您 – Wish You
A more formal way to address people is to say their name, and add, “wish you” in front of the expression.
Mandarin: zhù nín
Cantonese: zuk nei
So a formal greeting would go something like this: Mr. Lee, wish you a happy new year!
Mandarin: Lǐ xiān sheng (Mr. Lee), zhù nín xīn nián kuài lè!
Cantonese: Lǐ sin saang (Mr. Lee), zuk nei sun nin fai lok
Got that? You can address the person by name and wish him or her a happy new year and follow up with other phrases, depending upon what wishes you want to emphasize.
5. 希望你 – Hope You
A less formal alternative to the “wish you” greeting is “hope you.”
Mandarin: xīwàng nǐ
Cantonese: hei mong nei
6. 身体健康 – Good Health
Health is an important wish this time of year, and a go-to greeting for anyone, young or old!
Mandarin: shēn tǐ jiàn kāng
Cantonese: sun tai gin hong (“g” is pronounced as a hard “g,” not like a “j”)
Here is a good one for elders though and I have been adding this phrase when greeting my grandmother so it went something like this – Happy New year, good health and long life to 100 years!
Mandarin: Cháng mìng bǎi suì
Cantonese: cheung miang bok soi
When she reached her late nineties and after she turned 100, I modified the greeting to 200 years!
7. 祝您新年快乐,身体健康 – Wish You a Happy New Year and Good Health
Combine these two common phrases, and get my go-to opening Chinese New Year greeting! Everyone wants to be happy and have good health!
Mandarin: zhù nín xīn nián kuài lè, shēn tǐ jiàn kāng
Cantonese: zuk nei sun nin fai lok, sun tai gin hong (“g” is pronounced as a hard “g,” not like a “j”)
8. 年年有余 – Surplus & Abundance Year After Year
A common phrase I heard growing was a wish for abundance or surplus every year.
The word for abundance (余, yú) also sounds like the word for fish (鱼 yú). That’s why we always make two fish for our Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner, and save one for the next day (the surplus for the year!). Read more about the tradition, and how to make our Chinese New Year pan-fried fish!
Mandarin: niánnián yǒuyú
Cantonese: nin nin yau yu
9. 新年快乐, 阖家幸福 – Happy New Year & Happy Family
If you’re visiting or wishing a family happy new year, or you have someone you know who is very family oriented, this greeting sends them wishes for a happy family life.
Mandarin: xīn nián kuài lè, hé jiā xìng fú
Cantonese: sun nin fai lok hop gah heung fook
10. 新年快乐，万事如意 – Happy New Year & May You Get Everything You Wish For
This is another common sweet wish for all of someone’s dreams to come true!
Mandarin: xīn nián kuài lè, wàn shì rú yì
Cantonese: sun nin fai lok, maan si yu yi
11. 心想事成 May All Your Wishes Come True
Mandarin: xīn xiǎng shì chéng
Cantonese: sum sheung si sing
12. 恭喜发财 – Wish You Prosperity and Good Fortune
Gong hei fat choy (Cantonese) has become one of the most recognizable Chinese New Year greetings outside of China. Growing up in the New York metropolitan area and even today, you’ll still hear this phrase everywhere in Chinatown and even in school classrooms.
Mandarin: gōngxǐ fācái
Cantonese: gong hei fat choy
13. 恭喜发财，红包拿来 – Wish Prosperity and Good Fortune; Give Me A Red Envelope!
Children always look forward to Chinese New Year celebrations, because there is good food to eat and married elders give out red envelopes filled with money to kids (and single young adults! :D – Kaitlin).
Growing up, there was always some cool uncle who taught us how to be mischievous and maximize our profits during Chinese New Year. We used this rhyming phrase with a big smile on our faces!
Mandarin: gōng xǐ fā cái, hóng bāo ná lái
Cantonese: gong hei fot choy, hong bao luo loi
14. 新年快乐, 大吉大利 – Happy New Year, Good Luck & Big Profits
As kids, we used a longer phrase, but we’ll have to meet in person if you want to hear it! This auspicious greeting is quite popular and good for everyone, but business people especially appreciate this one.
Mandarin: xīn nián kuài lè, dà jí dà lì
Cantonese: sun nin fai lok, dai gut dai lei
15. 学业有成 – Academic Success or Academic Progress
All you students out there may hear either of these from your grandparents and relatives, so check these phrases and recognize these well wishes! Once they’re done, you can fire back with some happy new year and good health greetings back at ‘em (see above).
Mandarin: xuéyè yǒuchéng
Cantonese: hok yip yau sing
学习进步 – Academic Progress
Mandarin: xuéxí jìnbù
Cantonese: hok jop jun bo
16. 财源滚滚 – May Wealth Roll In
This greeting and the ones that follow are good options for work settings and colleagues! New Years greetings aren’t just for family and friends, after all.
Mandarin: cáiyuán gǔn gǔn
Cantonese: tsoy yun gwan gwan
17. 工作顺利 – May Your Work Go Smoothly
Mandarin: gōngzuò shùnlì
Cantonese: gung zok sun lei
18. 事业有成 – Success In Your Career
Mandarin: shìyè yǒuchéng
Cantonese: shi yip yau sing
19. 马到成功 – Instant Success
Mandarin: mǎ dào chénggōng
Cantonese: ma dou sing gung
20. 步步高升 – Promotions at Every Step
Mandarin: bùbù gāoshēng
Cantonese: bou bou gou sing
21. 一帆风顺 – May Everything Go Smoothly
Mandarin: yīfān fēngshùn
Cantonese: yat faan fung sun
22. 升官发财 – Win Promotion & Get Rich
Mandarin: shēngguān fācái
Cantonese: sing goon fot choy
23. 生意兴隆 – Prosperous Business
Mandarin: shēngyì xīnglóng
Cantonese: saang yi hing lung
That’s it for now and Happy Chinese new year to everyone!
Also, don’t forget to check out our Chinese Zodiac article and find out your Chinese zodiac animal and element!