If there are two things that the Chinese love, they’re holidays and idioms. My teachers have been introducing us to a lot of idioms lately, and now I’m going to teach you a few to stick on your holiday cards! Most of these are used around the most important Chinese holiday, the New Year (since they don’t really celebrate Christmas here), but since we don’t do a lot of well-wishing for that, I think they fit just fine into this season of general goodwill to men.
Literal translation: “One sail good wind.”
Meaning: I hope your sails are filled with good winds that take you where you want to go or, more simply, smooth sailing.
Literal translation: “Three sheep open Thailand,” or “Three suns open Tai Mountain,” depending on the characters you use for ‘tai’ and ‘yang’.
Meaning: “An auspicious beginning to New Years” (http://www.chinabaike.com/english/Dictionary/643013.html). If you can figure this one out, good on you, ’cause I’m pretty lost. Not really a Christmas greeting, but still practical.
Literal translation: “Four seasons grow wealthy.”
Meaning: “I hope you can be successful all through the year.” ‘Wealth’ is a common theme in Chinese blessings.
Literal translation: “Five blessings present gate.”
Meaning: “May the five blessings (longevity, wealth, health, virtue, and a natural death) be present in this home.” This is another New Year’s greeting, but I think it’s especially fitting for Christmas (except for maybe that last one, depending on who you’re well-wishing).
Literal translation: “Six six big lucky??”
Meaning: “Super lucky.” Six is a lucky number here. I don’t like this one. Moving on.
Literal translation: “Long long long time long time.”
Meaning: “A long time” (of life, marriage, etc.). In Chinese, you repeat words for emphasis, so this really just means a very long time. It’s a multi-use idiom, but I’m pretty sure you need to provide a context for it.
Literal translation: “Ten complete ten beautiful.”
Meaning: “Completely perfect,” “I hope your (life, year)is completely perfect.” Ten is the number of completion in the Chinese language (pretty intuitive), and ‘completely beautiful’ means ‘perfect.’ I’m pretty sure this is another New Year’s one, but you can probably apply it to other situations.
Literal translation: “Year year peace.”
Meaning: “May you have peace year after year.” Repetition of a noun in Chinese can also mean one after the other. Once again, New Year’s greetings, but Christmas is the season of peace, right?
Grammatical note: Where I say “May you have…,” “I hope you have…,” the Chinese would say “祝你,” or “I wish you….” So if you want to be super culturally fluent, you would say “祝你一帆风顺,” “祝你岁岁平安,” although I really recommend that you write it instead. Carefully. Because little mistakes in Chinese can make a big difference.
I hope these well-wishes have been fun for you! There are hundreds of them, so I’ve left you a couple of links below with more comprehensive lists. Oh, and last but not least,
Sara Dawn (习乐明）