There’s a day during the year that I looked forward to the most. On par with Christmas day and my birthday – not for gifts and spending time with family –because more importantly, my parents let me skip school and I didn’t have to put in the extra effort and pretend to be sick. Chinese New Year is a particular important time of year for Chinese – traditionally the celebration lasts for 15 days – the first three days at statutory holidays in China where the country literally grinds to a halt where everyone is spending time with loved ones. Though we might not celebrate communism in the west, we do celebrate Chinese New Year, so if you’re down to party like it’s 4712, here are some things you need to know.
Chinese New Year is a very auspicious time for Chinese families (and those who follow the lunar calendar). It’s a time to clean the home, symbolic for removing the old and welcoming the new. It’s also the time to decorate your home with all the Chinese New year paraphernalia you can find, not only because it’s festive and red (it’s a lucky colour) but also because it’s tacky and you’d be too embarrassed to invite friends over – thus pleasing your parents… especially if you’re not studying to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer.
Giving oranges and tangerines as gifts or displaying them in the home is said to bring good luck and fortune. The word for tangerine and “gold” sound the same, just like how the number eight sounds like “prosperity”. Put these together in groups of three or eight but never four – that number is associated with death. Bonus points if the tangerines have leaves – this is symbolic for longevity.
The longer the better; this is symbolic of longevity and long life.
Tray of togetherness
A special tray filled with traditional Chinese New Year candies and treats. From candied lotus root, dried watermelon seeds and sweet lotus seeds that represent fertility and children, to dried candied wintermelon that represents good health. Each compartment represents something auspicious and is a tasty treat to put out for guests bidding them good fortune and other well wishes.
The word fish in Chinese sounds like “abundance” or “surplus”. The fish can be prepared in a variety of ways and is always served whole with the head and tail; this is symbolic of a beginning and end. The way in which the fish is eaten is also very important. It is never moved; it’s eaten on one side, then deboned, then the bottom side is eaten. The fish is NEVER flipped over as this represent flipping a boat over and being unlucky – as you would dump out your “abundance”.
Dumplings are made in the shape of gold and silver ingots and it’s said that the more dumplings you eat on New Years, the luckier you’ll be. That’s why you’ll usually find me on Chinese New Year passed out on the couch in a dumpling coma.
Literally translated to “Year cake” or “New Years cake”, this dessert is made with glutinous rice flour, sugar, chestnuts and dates. The Chinese word for “sticky” sounds like the word for “year” and word for “cake” sounds like “high or tall”. The name of the cake is a homonym for “higher year” and raising oneself higher each coming year.
It’s customary for adults – married ones – to give these red envelopes to children, friends and the elderly containing money, which symbolizes fortune and good luck. Best part about this tradition is having your married friends pay up and you collecting the benefits of being unmarried.
Chinese lunar calendar, and it falls on the second new moon after winter solstice – somewhere between 21 January and 19 February, meaning it changes from year to year. So until next year, I wish you and yours a very Happy Chinese New Year. May the year of the sheep bring you much health, wealth, happiness and prosperity! Gun Hei Fat Choy! Sun Nin Fai Lok!
Cover image: Getty Images