Chinese New Year is the most significant holiday on the Chinese calendar. Apart from being a time to feast and reunite with family, the festivities are often accompanied by a large array of customs and rituals. Anyone can incorporate these traditions to welcome in the New Year and hope for some good luck.
Family Reunion Dinner
Food takes center stage for Lunar New Year when families gather for a delicious reunion dinner on New Year’s Eve. An expansive homemade meal with multiple dishes, including steamed fish is prepared. The tradition of eating fish during the New Year stems from the fact that the Chinese word for “surplus” or “profit” sounds like the word for fish. It is believed that eating fish will bring wealth in the new year. There are several other foods that are considered lucky based on the way the food sounds and is presented.
- Dumplings —Prosperity
- Spring Rolls — Wish for prosperity
- Glutinous Rice Cake — Higher Income or Position
- Sweet Rice Balls — Family Togetherness
- Longevity Noodles — Happiness and Longevity
- Tangerines and Oranges — Fullness and Wealth
- Fish—Increase in prosperity
Red envelopes are decorative envelopes filled with cash gifts that are usually given from adults to children, and from married couples to their younger, unmarried family members. It is also customary for bosses to present them to employees. They are usually given in pairs and the dollar amount should end in an even number (avoiding amounts with the number 4 in it). Odd numbers can be symbolic of a funeral. The bills on the inside should be crisp and brand new.
Firecrackers and Fireworks
New Year festivities wouldn’t be the same without pyrotechnics. New Year’s firecrackers are made from strings of rolled red paper containing gunpowder that, when set off, leave shreds of scarlet paper their wake. Traditionally, it is believed that the loud noise of the firecrackers serves to scare away evil spirits.
Lion and Dragon Dances
This colorful traditional dance, which is said to bring good luck, is performed outdoors to the accompaniment of drums and cymbals, sometimes as a street parade. Dragon dances are performed by a troupe of acrobatic dancers, whereas lion dances are performed by just two dancers.
You can always tell when Chinese New Year is around the corner because of the festive scarlet decor adorning every street, storefront and home. Red and gold are lucky colors for the Chinese; red symbolizes vitality of life and happiness, gold represents wealth and prosperity. These red lanterns are hung on the streets, while red and gold banners with New Year messages of good luck decorate the entrances of houses as well as business establishments. Images of Chinese knots, potted kumquats and golden orange trees are also common on the banners.
Everybody flocks to the markets to prepare gifts and decorate the house with the traditional “lucky plants”, including orange trees, mandarin or kumquat trees, lucky bamboos, branches of cherry blossoms, stalks of pussy willows.
Traditionally, families give their homes a thorough cleaning in the days leading up to New Day’s Day. Windows are scrubbed, floors are swept, and furniture is dusted in preparation for the new year, sweeping away the bad luck of the past year. Cleaning house also means settling all your unfinished business to start fresh for the new year: Pay off all your debts, resolve all quarrels with friends, catch up on unfinished projects.
Taboo on Lunar New Year
Chinese people believe that as the Spring Festival is the start of a new year, your actions will affect your luck in the coming year. While there are many things you should do to bring luck, there are also several things you should not do to ensure your year is prosperous.
- Don’t sweep or take out garbage. The act of sweeping on this day is like sweeping wealth away.
- Avoid eating porridge and meat for breakfast. Only poor people have porridge for breakfast. People don’t want to start the year “poor” as this is a bad omen. Avoid meat at this breakfast out of respect for the (Buddhist) gods (who are against the killing of animals).
- Don’t wash clothes and hair. You don’t want to “wash one’s fortune away.”
- Avoid handling needles or knives. The use of knives and scissors could cause an accident, which could symbolize the depletion of wealth in the coming year.
- Don’t allow the rice jar to become empty. This causes grave anxiety, as the cessation of cooking during the New Year period is an ill omen.
- Do not wear white or black clothes. These two colors are for mourning.
Visit a local Asian market to find these delicacies and celebrate Chinese New Year with your family. Remember our tips to ensure that good luck and fortune await you all through the new year.