All about Chinese New Year—Traditions and Food

2012 December 14
by Myra

Would you like to enjoy a New Year celebration that is fifteen-day-long and with different celebrations on each day? Chinese Spring Festival is the answer.

Lunar calendar

Unlike most of the western countries, Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) is not on January 1st .  Since Chinese people use the lunar calendar in addition to western Gregorian calendar, the actual date of Spring festival varies every year based on the lunar cycle. However it always falls on January or February. The festival begins on the first day of the first month in lunar calendar (正月 Zhēngyuè), and lasts for fifteen days until the Lantern Festival.

The story of Monster “Nian” (Year)

The most important holiday for Chinese people, Spring Festival, started with a story of monster “Nian”. According to the legend, monster “Nian” came on the first day of Chinese New Year to attack the neighborhood for food. One time, people found out that “Nian” was afraid of the color red because it resembles fire. Then they started to wear red clothes, hang red lanterns and spring couplets on doors and windows to protect themselves and their house from “Nian.” Later, people played drums and firecrackers on that day, using the noise and sparks to scare “Nian” away. Although ‘Nian’ never showed up again, the customs of wearing red, sticking spring couplets, and playing drums and firecrackers last since then.

The upside down character “福” (FU)

Some people may be puzzled why Chinese people stick a character “福” in their front door during Spring Festival. Given a closer look, they may find that it is hung upside down. Character “福” means fortune and good luck, so by hanging the “福” in the front door, Chinese people believe it can attract good fortune and luck in the New Year. The Chinese word upside down (倒 dào) sounds the same as “arrive” (到 dào). Therefore, when people say, “ Your FU is upside down,” it sounds like “ Your Fu arrived.” And your luck, happiness, and prosperity have arrived.

Red envelop

Chinese kids love Spring Festival because they can ask red envelops, just like western kids that can ask for candies in Thanksgiving. It is a tradition for married couples to give children red envelopes and anyone who refuses to give out red envelops will have bad luck throughout the year. Since the red envelop is also known as利是(lìshì)in Cantonese and压岁钱 (yàsuìqián), by giving children red envelops, it symbolizes giving them good wishes. The act of requesting for red envelops is normally called讨紅包 (tǎo hóngbāo) in Mandarin, and逗利是(dòu lìshì)in Cantonese. Unlike saying “Trick or treat”, Chinese kids give auspicious greetings when asking for red envelops. For example “恭喜发财,红包拿来” (gōngxǐfācaí hōngbāonálái) which can be translated as “congratulations and wish you a prosperous year, give me a red envelop” is a typical one.

Cuisine —Dumplings and Fish

On the Chinese New Year’s eve“除夕 (Chúxī)”, family reunion dinner is definitely a feast. In the northern part of China, people usually eat dumplings after dinner and before midnight. Dumplings look like silver ingots, which were one kind of currency used in ancient China. And while making them, it is similar to pack good luck and fortune inside the dumplings, which will be eaten later. Since you can fill you dumplings with a variety of various ingredients, such as meat, seafood and vegetables, both wealthy and poor family can enjoy dumplings with its special flavor. This also symbolizes everyone can have good fortune in the New Year.

Fish ( 鱼) will also be served in the dinner but it cannot be eaten completely. Because the left fish resonates with a Chinese saying “may we have surpluses every year” (年年有余niánnián yǒu yú.) By leaving some fish for the New Year, Chinese people hope they can save money every year.

In addition to these common traditions, Chinese people from different parts also have their own special celebrations. Both the North and the South also clean their house, worship ancestors, visit friends and relatives, go to the temples, have New Year parade, perform dragon and lion dance, but just a little bit differently. New Year cuisine varies from places to places as well. Niangao(Sticky Rice Cake), Buddha’s delight , melon seeds, chinese orange, Jau gok, taro cakes, turnip cakes and noodles all have their significance in Chinese Spring Festival.

 

Want to know more about Chinese Spring Festival and tradition cuisine? Please stay tuned in http://www.hillslearning.com/blog/

 

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