Although the rest of the world welcomes the new year every January 1st, the Chinese have their very own version to look forward to. Chinese New Year marks the beginning of the year based on the lunar calendar, and the start of spring.
It is when families feast together and all sorts of traditions are practiced in the hopes of making the incoming year a very lucky and prosperous one. Things likethe color red to symbolize celebration and the lion dance for good luck are often observed, but an emphasis is placed on food and eating, because the Chinese believe that starting the year with a full table will mean abundance all year round.
Here are 8 essential food rules every Chinese household follows to usher in a new year surrounded bygood fortune, joy, prosperity, and most importantly, loved ones.
Most Chinese New Year feasts include a dish composed of a whole chicken, duck, or fish (or if you’ve got a big family, a whole pig). The whole animal symbolizes family unity and plans having a ‘head’ and ‘tail,’ meaning that endeavors will be successfully completed. Duck symbolizes fertility, while fish symbolizes, not just wealth, but an excess of it, making the latter an important dish at the Chinese New Year dinner table.
To the Chinese, white means death, so serving food with that color is considered bad luck during Chinese New Year. Chinese vegetarians who rely on tofu serve dried beancurd or beancurd skin instead, which is brown and not white.
Fruits are another important part of the Chinese New Year feast. In the Philippines, it’s tradition to serve 12 round fruits, symbolizing prosperity for each month of the western year. Popular ones include apples, which symbolize wisdom; oranges, which symbolize gold; pomelos, abundance; pineapple (technically still round-ish), wealth and lucky chances; and if you can get them, peaches, which symbolize immortality.
Anyone who has Chinese friends knows this rule. Noodles have an important place in Chinese celebrations because they represent long life and prosperity, and cutting them, either with a utensil or with your teeth as you eat, is considered bad luck. And due to time and cross-cultural influences, many have found ways to put their own spin on the ancient dish, thus, catering to different palates. You, too, can experiment. But remember, twirl your noodles, or slurp if you must (it’s not considered rude to do so). Do anything but cut them, at least for the New Year.
Eight is an auspicious number in Chinese culture because it sounds similar to the word ‘luck.’ Sweets are lucky as well, because they symbolize a ‘sweet’ life free from hardship. Some households display a ‘Prosperity Tray’ or ‘Tray of Togetherness’ to attract luck and prosperity. It consists of a red round or octagonal-shaped container divided into eight sections.
The Chinese love sweets, not only because they taste good, but also because of what they symbolize. Up your chances for a good year by making sure your Chinese New Year feast is replete with all sorts of goodies such as egg custards, sticky rice cakes, and other pastries, Chinese or otherwise. Some people believe that everyone, especially children, should be happy at this time of the year to avoid bad luck. And what better way to a child’s heart than through his sweet tooth?
Chinese vegetarians who rely on tofu serve dried beancurd or beancurd skin instead, which is brown and not white.
The first thing many families eat after the stroke of midnight on Chinese New Year are boiled dumplings, considered lucky because they are shaped like Chinese gold nuggets. But wait! There’s more! There’s a coin hidden in one of the dumplings, and whoever gets it (hopefully not swallow it) will be extra lucky the whole year.
If you’ve read this far, you’ve noticed that family plays an important part in Chinese tradition. People draw strength from their families, and it is considered good luck for a family to be complete during one of the most important holidays of the lunar calendar. After all, food is best enjoyed with other people, and who best to share a meal with than the ones closest to your heart?
What do you think of these guidelines? Do you celebrate Chinese New Year? Share your experiences in the Comments Section.