HOPEFULLY, your New Year hangover will have cleared by now. It had better have done: because tomorrow is New Year’s Eve all over again.

On Sunday night, Chinese people the world over will say goodbye to the Year of the Rat and hello to the Year of the Ox. It will be the start of 15 days of festivities that culminate in the Lantern Festival on February 9.

Over here, we associate Chinese New Year with firecrackers and dragon dances. All of which is perfectly OK. Chinese people do like to watch traditional performances on New Year’s Eve. But above all, Chinese New Year is about family.

“It is the most important festival in China, and it is the festival of family reunion,” says Meizi Liu, a 22-year-old student from Dalian in northern China who is studying politics and sociology at the University of York.

“Just like Christmas for British people, in China people tend to go home to their family for Chinese New Year.”

Lots of people in China take seven days off over New Year so they can go home. It leads to huge numbers crowding on to trains and buses, a mass movement that makes our Christmas rush seem tame.

Once home, the festival is all about eating, visiting relatives and friends and renewing old acquaintances.

Instead of settling down to watch the Queen’s Speech on TV, Chinese families tend to watch the New Year gala on CCTV (the Chinese equivalent of the BBC) – a feast of dance, song, opera and music.

There will be huge meals involving countless dishes on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

Usually there will be at least 24 dishes for the main meal, in multiples of eight because eight is a lucky number in China, says Dr Lili Chen, a Chinese academic who lives in York. “So there will be eight cold dishes, eight steamed dishes, eight fried dishes, and so-on,” she says.

They will include tofu and Chinese cabbage – a white food and a green food which between them represent health and cleanliness, Dr Chen says.

There will also be fish, because the Chinese word for fish sounds the same as the word for plenty, or abundance. Another dish will be round meat or fish balls, because this shape represents unity and assures the family will be united and together in the year ahead.

In the north of China, adds Meizi Liu, many people eat Chinese dumplings – jiaozi – too, making them together as a family before eating them. “Sometimes people put a coin in a dumpling, and if you happen to get the coin it brings fortune and luck in the New Year,” Meizi says.

According to Susan Tsang of the Chi Yip oriental supermarket, in George Hudson Street, who is from Hong Kong, Chinese people traditionally don’t eat meat on New Year’s Day itself (though they do on New Year’s Eve). Instead, they eat vegetarian dishes such as jai, a stir-fry which includes lotus root, lotus seeds (which will mean you are blessed with “many male offsprings”, Susan says), ginkgo nuts, black moss seaweed (representing extreme wealth) and dried beancurd (for happiness).

Superstition plays a big part. There is no cleaning or dusting allowed on New Year’s Day, because that would amount to sweeping away all the year’s luck, Susan says. And for the same reason, you’re not supposed to wash your hair on New Year’s Day. “You’d be washing away good luck.”

To ensure a lucky year, the entrances to homes tend to be decorated with Chinese characters for luck and good fortune. They are painted on red paper, Susan says, because red is the “happy colour”.

It certainly is as far as children are concerned. Just like Christmas here, Chinese New Year is a time for children. They don’t get presents, exactly. Instead, they get “hong bao” – red envelopes filled with cash.

This year, the York Chinese Students and Scholars Association is laying on a series of events for the New Year festival (see panel). But if you want to be really Chinese, you could have a traditional New Year’s Eve dinner on Sunday night.

Don’t worry, you won’t have to cook 24 dishes. Just one will do.

Noodles are nice and easy. They’re not specifically a New Year dish, says Dr Chen: Chinese people enjoy them all year round. The key, if you’re going to cook them for New Year, is to make sure you don’t cut or break them, Susan Tsang says: “The long noodles represent long life. So you cook them long, and you eat them long.”

Oriental supermarkets such as Chi Yip have all the basic ingredients you could possibly need, including Chinese noodles which are ready to cook. And since the new year is the Year of the Ox, try stir-fried beef noodles.

Our recipe is taken from Quality Standard’s free recipe booklet Tuck-in Spring, which can be downloaded from beefyandlamby.co.uk.

Just remember, don’t cut those noodles…