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11 things to know about Lunar New Year

By Grace Huang, for CNN
February 6, 2014 -- Updated 0415 GMT (1215 HKT)
Contrary to popular belief, Chinese refer to the 15-day festival as Spring Festival or Lunar New Year -- not Chinese New Year. Contrary to popular belief, Chinese refer to the 15-day festival as Spring Festival or Lunar New Year -- not Chinese New Year.
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1. Chinese don't call it Chinese New Year
2. Traffic is chaos
3. There are 15 days of festivities
4. There are many quirky customs
5. You can rent a boyfriend
6. Puns are important
7. Fireworks frighten monsters
8. Red undies are important
9. Sweets are abundant
10. LNY has its own movie genre
11. Rules are flexible
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chinese government expects 3.62 billion people to travel during Lunar New Year
  • If you were born in the Year of the Horse, red underwear is a must
  • In China, single ladies can rent "fake" boyfriends to fend off family interrogations
The world's largest mass migration

(CNN) -- It's that time again: Lunar New Year.

Red packets of money will change hands and dragon dances will roar through the streets as people around the world, predominately of Chinese descent, usher in the Year of the Horse.

Beyond the usual Lunar New Year traditions, however, is a holiday full of interesting quirks and customs.

1. Locals don't call it Chinese New Year

In China, the festivities are known as spring festival (春節) or Lunar New Year (農曆新年) -- the new year is determined by the lunar calendar.

And the Chinese aren't the only ones who observe it.

From late January to mid-February, Korea, Vietnam and other countries celebrate Lunar New Year.

MORE: H7N9 bird flu resurges in China ahead of Lunar New Year

2. Traffic is chaos

Lunar New Year is basically like having an entire country throw a family reunion -- all at once.

Traffic Armageddon inevitably strikes.

In China, the Spring Festival travel rush period (chunyun) is the country's, if not the world's, biggest season of human migration.

Whether pushing their way into packed buses, buying black-market tickets from scalpers or standing for hours on a crowded train, travelers do whatever it takes to see loved ones.

With commuters and migrant workers returning home, the government expects 3.62 billion journeys to take place this year, according to Xinhua news.

In Korea last year, nearly 30 million people visited their hometowns by car, bus, train or plane, according to the Korea Expressway Corporation.

MORE: Moving map shows Chinese New Year travel rush in real time

3. It's not just one day

Lunar New Year lasts 15 days, starting from January 31, 2014.

This year its last day falls on Valentine's Day.

It's an action-packed holiday -- you can bet on horse races, watch parades, bargain in bazaars and fight for prime worship spot at the temple.

What\'s with the bucket, pal? No cleaning allowed on the first day of Lunar New Year.
What's with the bucket, pal? No cleaning allowed on the first day of Lunar New Year.

4. It's a season of superstitions

During LNY, you live like a college student on the first day -- which means no showers, laundry or cleaning.

Above all, there's no taking out the trash -- doing so is said to wash away your luck and prosperity.

You hang out with family (especially in-laws) on the second day, which is considered the beginning of the year.

On the third day, visiting friends and family is frowned upon, because it's a day prone to arguments.

On the seventh day, it's time to party in celebration of everyone's birthday.

MORE: Understanding the Chinese lion dance

5. You can rent a boyfriend

Lunar New Year can be rough for singles, especially females.

Many family reunions are highlighted by dreaded interrogations of singles who haven't settled down.

Now there's a solution -- boyfriend rentals.

China's largest online retailer, Taobao, has a section for fake boyfriend rentals, so parents and relatives can finally stop nagging.

Renting a bogus marriage prospect ranges from RMB 500 ($82) to 8,000 ($1,321) per day.

The package comes with "a free embrace, hand holding and a goodbye kiss on the cheek," as well as a list of additional specific service charges.

According to People's Daily, dinner costs RMB 50 ($8) an hour and a trip to the movies is RMB 30 ($5) -- double if it's a thriller.

MORE: 'Evil spirits': The truth about Chinese New Year

6. Odd linguistic customs are observed

In Parts of China, there are a few things you can and can't do over the Lunar New Year holiday -- simply because of how they sound.

Footwear purchases are off limits for the entire lunar month, as the term for shoes (haai) sounds like losing and sighing in Cantonese.

You can however, turn the Chinese character for luck (fu) upside down to make "dao" (which sounds like arrival) and put it on your door to bring in good fortune for the new year.

MORE: Why I dread Chinese New Year

7. Firecrackers are for scaring away monsters

Legend says the half-dragon, half-lion monster "Nian" comes out of hiding and attacks people (especially children) during the Lunar New Year.

His weakness? Sensitive ears.

In the old days, people would light bamboo stalks on fire to frighten the monster.

Nowadays, you can watch spectacular fireworks display along the Hong Kong waterfront or play with firecrackers in a Beijing hutong.

Red undies keep bad luck at bay. Even so, she looks like trouble.
Red undies keep bad luck at bay. Even so, she looks like trouble.

8. Red undies are critical for some

Red is associated with luck and prosperity, but it's used mainly for protective purposes.

In addition to being spooked by loud noises, "Nian" is frightened by the color red, which explains all the red you see on Lunar New Year decorations.

For those born in the Year of the Horse -- turning 12, 24, 36, 48, 60, 72, 84 and 96 this year -- red undergarments are a must.

Not because that pesky LNY monster has X-ray vision, but because red undies supposedly fend off misfortune in this unlucky year.

Interestingly, the Cantonese term for pants (fu) sounds exactly like the word for wealth.

MORE: Praying for good fortune over Lunar New Year

9. It's a time for sweets

Food is central to all Chinese festivals, but sugary snacks are especially important for LNY, since they sweeten up prospects for the coming year.

Traditional holiday treats include nian gao (rice pudding), babaofan (eight treasure rice), jau goks (crispy dumplings), candied fruits and seeds.

10. It has its own movie genre

China and Hong Kong have a film genre called "hesuipian" devoted to Lunar New Year.

The films are usually illogical, uplifting comedies, with a focus on families and happy endings to make viewers feel warm and fuzzy. Similar to Christmas movies, really.

Holiday favorites include the "All's Well, Ends Well" series (the 1992 classic stars Stephen Chow and Maggie Cheung), "Fat Choi Spirit" and "It's a Mad Mad World."

11. Customs are flexible

Customs and superstitions aren't set in stone.

There's room for flexibility in interpretation and application.

Banning shoes for the entire lunar month?

That depends on how you read the rules -- the word for shoe might sound like sighing, but it also sounds like harmony (hexie).

Not showering for the sake of Lunar New Year?

Many pass on that for obvious hygienic reasons.

In the end, Lunar New Year is really about having a great time with family and friends, so many opt not to sweat the details.

MORE: Ultimate Hong Kong shopping guide

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