Chinese New Year’s Eve, a day where Chinese families gather for their annual reunion dinner, is known as Chúxī, which literally means “remove evening” or “Eve of the Passing Year.” It is the longest and most important festival in China. Other countries and regions with large Chinese populations such as Hong Kong, Thailand and the Philippines also celebrate the Chinese New Year. 2017 is the year of the Rooster and begins on January 28th, 2017 and ends on February 15th, 2018. The New Years celebrations go on for 15 days, ending with the Lantern Festival on February 11, 2017.
So what are some of the Chinese New Year Traditions and Superstitions?
- Cleaning: The house is cleansed thoroughly to sweep out any bad luck and to make way for good luck in the new year. No cleaning the first day of the year however, as you can sweep away the luck of the new year. Using knives, scissors or anything sharp on New Year’s Day is considered bad luck as you will “cut off” the New Year’s fortune. The yard should also be in order. Don’t wash your hair or clothes on the first day of the year or it is said you will wash away your luck.
- Even numbers: Keep things in pairs – for example by an even number of oranges. If you give any away, give them in pairs, as odd numbers are believed to bring unhappiness.
- Families come together for a feast. The cuisine for the occasion is chosen carefully, keeping in mind Chinese traditions and beliefs, and often includes a whole fish, pork and duck. This coincides with the theory that on New Years Day you want to eat things that move forward and not those that walk backwards, such as lobster or crab to represent moving forward in the new year. The fish is served whole with the head on symbolizing a good beginning of the new year, and the tail representing the end of the year that just passed. The head of the fish should be served pointing at the family elders as a sign of respect. The scales on fish are also believed by some to symbolize silver and therefore wealth. Another theory is that since many fish swim in schools, they are a sign of abundance. In the Chinese culture duck symbolizes fidelity and pork strength, wealth and abundant blessings.
- Rice swells when you cook it and is said to represent luck and wealth. Uncut noodles represent longevity and long life, spring rolls that symbolize wealth due to their shape as gold bars and dumplings which represent ancient Chinese coins due to their round shape, are often included in the meal as well. Dumplings are made in advance and eaten the last hour of the old year and the first hour of the new year. Some families place a coin inside of one dumpling so the lucky recipient will be sure to have good luck and prosperity in the new year. Mandarin oranges, tangerines and pomelo, a citrus fruit similar to grapefruit found in Southeast Asia.
- Candies, cakes, decorations and many things associated with the New Year and its ceremonies are colored red. You will almost always find Nian Gao, which are sweet rice cakes that can be baked, fried or steamed. Most homes also have what is called a Tray of Togetherness that has 8 compartments with sweet items such as candied melon, coconut, nuts, candy and dried fruits. Why eight…the number 8 is considered lucky in China.
- Other good ingredients to use for Chinese New Years dishes are onions (cleverness,) mixed vegetables (family harmony,) egg (fertility,) and pumpkin (prosperity.)
- Make amends: On the note of families, the Chinese believe you should not enter the new year angry or holding any grudges, so they will traditionally reconcile differences, particularly within the family. Seems like good advice for all of us to follow.
- Out with the old in with the new: Wearing new clothing or getting a new haircut would represent a new start. Red is a color of good luck. (Avoid black or white clothes on the first day of the year as they are thought of as unlucky colors)
- Firecrackers are set off just after midnight to scare evil spirits. Hard core believers would like the firecrackers inside their homes with the doors closed, and not open the doors until morning to let in the new year. This was known as Kaicaimen or opening the door of fortune.
- Windows and doors are decorated with red symbols that stand for wealth, good fortune, happiness and health.
- Children greet their parents with a happy new year the following morning and are given money by their parents in red envelopes, called “hong bao” in Mandarin.
So what are some easy lucky foods you can make for the Chinese New Year?
Spring rolls, dumplings, lettuce wraps, fried rice, lo mein, long noodles (mian tiao) and mustard greens are simple to make and you can include several lucky food items.
What else can you do for luck?
- On February 11th and 12th wear red or decorate your home with something red. The Chinese actually don’t wear black for around 15 days surrounding the New Year as black symbolizes death.
- Place a bowl on your kitchen counter with oranges or tangerines – remember to keep them in even numbers.
- Flowers are also important for New Years. The Chinese use mainly 2 flowers, plum blossom which symbolize hope and courage, and water narcissus which represent fortune and good luck.
- Offer some fruit up to Zao Jun, the kitchen god. Chinese mythology and folklore believe that just before Chinese New Year, Zao Jun goes to heaven to report to the Jade Emperor. Many take a paper effigy of Zao Jun and place honey around the mouth to sweeten his words to the Jade Emperor, while others say it is to keep his lips stuck together. After this, the effigy will be burnt and replaced by a new one on New Year’s Day.
Place your Fu. Fu (pictured to the left,) is the symbol for fortune or good luck in China. You will see it painted on art, wind chimes, pots, enveloped and many other things. For New Years, it is customary to hang the Fu symbol on the front door or sometimes even their entrance gate.
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