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Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is a festival that celebrates the beginning of the new year on the traditional Lunar calendar. It is the most important holiday in China. It is a time to bring families for feasting and gathering. In 2021, the first day of Chinese New Year is February 12.


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Legend


Chinese New Year is based on a legend of the wild beast Nian which appeared at the end of the year, attacking and killing people. Loud noises, bright lights and red decorations are used to scare away that beast.


Chinese Zodiac Signs


There are 12 Chinese zodiac signs in the order of Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. The Heavenly Gate Race Story is the most popular origin of the zodiac sign. It was said that the Jade Emperor wanted to select 12 animals to be his guards. The earlier the one went through the Gate, the better the ranking. It is also said that each animal has its own unique characteristics. Starting on February 12, 2021, it is the year of the Ox.

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Symbolism


1. Red envelope/pocket


One of the most significant symbols is the Red envelope (Hong Bao). It is filled with money which symbolizes wealth, good wishes and luck. Traditionally, red pockets are given to children, unemployed adults or unmarried adults. Those who start earning have to give red pocket as a means to share their blessings. The following are some key points in giving and receiving red pockets.


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Giving

  • Put new bills

  • Avoid putting coins

  • Avoid putting forty or four hundred bills as four in Chinese sounds like “death” so this is a taboo in Chinese New Year. If the money starts or ends at eight, it is considered as good luck.

  • Prepare red envelopes in advance

Receiving

  • Always receive with both hands. It is considered impolite with a single hand.

  • Never open the red envelopes in front of the giver.

  • Always express gratitude with all those Chinese New Year popular greetings.

Common Chinese New Year greetings

  • Gong Xi Fa Chai 恭喜發財: wish you happiness and wealth

  • Zhao Cai Jin Bao 招財進寶: let riches and treasures come into the house

  • Bu Bu Gao Sheng 步步高升: be promoted step by step

  • Long Ma Jing Shen 龍馬精神: energetic as a dragon and a horse

  • Shen ti Jian Kang 身體健康: Wish you good health

  • Xue Ye Jin Bu 學業進步: wish you make great progress in your studies

  • Nian Nian You Yu 年年有餘: Surplus year after year

  • Wan Shi Ru Yi 萬事如意: wish your hopes be fulfilled

  • Xin Chang Shi Cheng 心想事成: Wish all your wishes come true

2. Yasui Qian


On New Year Eve, children are given coins called Yasui Qian. As the legend goes on, there was a demon called “Sui” who scares children. Usually, parents would keep their children awake to protect them. One night, a boy was too tired and slept with the coins. As the demon came, the coins produced a powerful light to drive the demon away.


3. Dragon


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Dragon is a mythical creature. Chinese dragons symbolize wisdom, power and wealth. Traditionally, it was a ceremony for worshiping ancestors and praying for rain. The dragon follows a man carrying a ball on the stick. The ball is moved in all directions and the dragon follows the ball which appears to be dancing. The loud noises from drums and cymbals are believed to fight the evil spirits.


Traditions


For Chinese New Year, there is a list of traditions according to time, from Lunar December 28th to Lunar January 15.

  • Lunar December 28th

On this day, Chinese people will clean and clean that day. To cross the Chinese New Year, people will buy new clothes and shoes, usually red in colour. People will prepare red pockets in advance and make sure they get new money from the bank.

  • Lunar December 30

There is no December 31 since the lunar calendar is based on moon movements. People usually are allowed to leave work earlier to prepare for the night’s feast. The whole family will gather have a huge feast with a lot of food symbolism (mentioned below).

  • Lunar January 1

Usually, people will stay a bit late the night before and change into new clothes. That day, people will “bai nian” which is to greet each other with a lot of greetings, wishing each other wealth, luck, health and happiness. Similar to Christmas, most of the restaurants or shops will not be opened. Some people also follow a Buddhist tradition to eat vegetarian on the first day of the Lunar New Year to purify your body and soul.

There are things you can’t do for a few days as they are considered taboo. You cannot clean your house as it symbolizes sweeping aways your luck for the new year. Some people will not wash their hair as it washes away your luck. You cannot bring up any words that are negative such as death.

  • Lunar January 2

Traditionally, the wife with her husband and children will go back to her family to “bai nian”. The Chinese also pray to their ancestors and all the gods. The meal on that day is called “Kai Nian Fan” which refers to the “Opening of the Year’ with dishes related to blessings and fortunes.

  • Lunar January 3

Traditionally, the third day of the New Year is for grave-visiting instead of house-visiting. Whoever encounters or offends “Red Dog” which is the “God of Blazing Wrath” will have bad luck. It is considered unlucky to go visiting relatives and friends because it might end up in trouble.

  • Lunar January 7

It is called “renri” which means “Human day”. Traditionally, Nuwa is the goddess who created the world. It is a birthday for everyone in the world.

  • Lunar January 15

It is the last day of the Lunar New Year celebrations. Usually, after this day, you will stop receiving red pockets. It is also the first day of the first full moon which symbolizes family reunion. Traditionally, women will write riddles on the lanterns and men could answer their riddles were then matched with them.


Food


A lot of traditional food in the Lunar New Year has a lot of symbolic meaning. The food names sound like lucky words, which adds an extra level of meaning. The following are a few of the most popular dishes.


The name comes from eight different kinds of dried fruits such as raisin, candied winter melon. Number eight, when pronounced, sounds like a Chinese word “Fa” (發) rich or prosperous in Chinese. Since this dessert is sweet and colourful, it symbolizes luck and sweetness.


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Nian Gao is a type of sweet and sticky dessert that is made of glutinous rice flour. It can be fried, steamed. In Chinese, it means “Year High” which symbolizes higher growth and higher success. It is considered good luck to eat on Lunar New Year.


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Radish cake is a popular dim sum and Lunar New Year dish. Daikon (turnip or white radish) means lucky in Taiwanese culture. It is made of shredded radish mixed with water, dried shiitake mushroom, dried shrimps and Chinese sausage.


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Tang Yuan, or Yuan Xiao in the North, is a sweetened glutinous rice ball traditionally filled with black sesame, red bean paste, peanut paste or unfilled. It is usually served with translucent sugary soup enhanced with ginger. The circulatory shape of the ball represents family reunion. Traditionally, it is eaten on Lunar December 30 and Lantern Festival which is the 15th day of Chinese New Year.


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A whole fish is a staple for Chinese New Year. It means prosperity and surplus every year, similar to the meaning of “Nian Nian You Yu”. The fish is served as a whole, with head and tail representing a good beginning and ending for the new year.


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Longevity noodles are long noodles that are served uncut and symbolize longevity. Cook without cutting the noodles and try eating in one piece. They are also seen during birthday celebrations. The simplest way is to dip with ginger scallion sauce. Wish you long and happy life.


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Dumplings, also called potstickers, are believed to bring wealth and prosperity. They are shaped like silver and gold ingots which were the currencies in the past. Traditionally, the whole family will wrap dumplings in the afternoon or evening on Lunar New Year’s eve.


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Spring rolls are eaten during the Chinese New Year to welcome spring in Southern China. Now, it can be seen as a snack, appetizer or dim sum. Traditionally, the filling is cabbage, shiitake mushroom, pork, carrots and seasoning.


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Lettuce wrap means wealth and prosperity. In Chinese, the pronunciation “Sang Choy” is like a growing fortune. They are usually filled with ground meat, water chestnuts and spring onions. Crunchy on the outside and savoury on the inside.


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Mandarin orange is the fruit that is traditionally served during Lunar New Year. The Chinese pronunciation “Kam” sounds like gold. It is said to bring wealth into your life. The bright colour also symbolizes good luck. Usually, oranges are widely displayed as decorations and exchanged as gold.


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A Tray of Togetherness is a serving platter filled with candies, dried fruits, nuts and other treats. Generally, it means to offer guests these sweet treats to wish them a sweet year ahead with some symbolizing hopes and prosperity. Common treats are red watermelon seeds (symbolize fertility and joy), candied lotus root (symbolize abundance year after year), candied coconut (symbolize family reunion), dried peanuts (symbolize health and longevity), sesame balls (symbolize prosperity), etc.


Image is courtesy of The Hong Kong Cookery.


Decorations


Most of the decorations are done on New Year’s Eve or before with red, lucky symbols and Chinese zodiac animals.

  • Chinese Red Lanterns: It is believed to drive off bad luck

  • Door Couplets: It is to bring good wishes and luck. They are posted in pairs on doors in Chinese Calligraphy in black ink on red paper.

  • Upside Down Fu Characters: The meaning is similar to door couplets. Sometimes, it is posted as paper cutting. Fu means good fortune and upside-down means to pour the fortune out.

  • Flowers: Since Chinese New Year usually marks the beginning of spring, many people decorate their houses with many flowers to wish for a prosperous new year. Even each flower has its own meaning.


Conclusion


Many parts of China, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan celebrate different traditions. However, the meaning is still the same - to wish everyone health, happiness, luck and prosperity. Chinese New Year is a colourful holiday with lots of delicious food and unique traditions. Wish you all have an amazing Year of Ox.


References


Cindy. (2021, February 5). How to Decorate for Chinese New Year: The Top 7 Decorations. Retrieved from https://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/festivals/new-year-decoration.htm

Or, K. (2019, December 23). Find out the symbolism behind these Chinese traditions and Chinese New Year decorations. Retrieved from https://thehoneycombers.com/hong-kong/chinese-new-year-decorations-symbolism/

Pinkytoky. (2017, September 4). Traditions and Customs of Chinese Lunar New Year. Retrieved from https://owlcation.com/social-sciences/traditions-and-customs-of-chinese-lunar-new-year

Xi, A. (n.d). Chinese New Year Dishes. Retrieved from