Celebrating Chinese New Year
Nearly all food served during the Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations has a a double meaning.
Food is usually a key part for a celebration in nearly any culture, and the Chinese Lunar New Year is not an exception to this norm, and there are many opportunities for special meals and treats.
Tangerines are always present during the Chinese New Year. Why? Their bright color reminds of gold and the same word is used to designate gold and Mandarin oranges in the Cantonese dialect, whereas in Mandarin Chinese, the name given to these tangerines sounds very similar to the word for luck. Besides, tangerines are sweet which should steer fortune towards a sweet year. Tangerines are placed as decoration, in bowls and ornamental trees, around the house. When Mandarin oranges keep their leaves whole, they suggest longevity. Mandarin oranges are a good present to exchange with others, in pairs, during New Year visits because this is a symbol for spreading good luck.
Never place decorations in fours, neither give presents in fours because the number four sounds very similar to the word for death in some Chinese dialects.
Pineapples are considered to be lucky things because their Chinese name sounds similar to the phrase “prosperity has arrived” in some Chinese dialects. So pineapples are displayed profusely around the houses, either the actual fruit or as pineapple shaped lanterns, decorated with red ribbons. Besides, pineapple tarts are one of the preferred Chinese New Year treats in many places. Pineapple tarts are baked pastry or cookie dough with a pineapple jam or pineapple custard filling. They may have the shape of custard tartlets, the shape of a cookie with a jam top, or be like cylinders, open at the ends or closed, with a pineapple filling inside and sometimes the sides are decorated to remind of pineapple skin.
Eight treasures box
People visit family and friends during these festivities, so households often have sweet and savory snacks ready for guests. These treats are placed in a round or octagonal box with eight compartments filled with food items carefully chosen for their symbolism. Why eight treasures? The word for eight sounds very similar to the word for prosperity in some Chinese dialects. Traditionally sweet treats would be candied winter melon, red dates and other similar, conveying the hopes for a sweet year ahead. Savory nibbles would consist of nuts and seeds, with a clear association with fertility. In modern times, gold wrapped chocolate coins and other western sweets are also placed in the treasure box as part of the sweet treats, whereas all sorts or salted, roasted nuts are presented as savory snacks, as an update to the local nuts and seeds.
This snack box is also known as the tray of togetherness.
It is a tradition that families gather for an annual reunion dinner which should happen on the Chinese New Year´s eve, at the place closest to the eldest member of the family. Families still come together for such dinner although, for practical reasons, those meetings may take place in a restaurant and not exactly on the New Year´s Eve, but the first opportunity near to the date. When celebrated at home. Food is served artfully plated, with lots of attention given to the menu, for instance, anything fried in butter to produce an auspicious golden crust, or jiao zi in northern China. Because of the stress of cooking lots of food for many more people and in a short time, catered food is not unusual.
In some regions with short New Year holidays, corporate spring dinners may be happening on the fourth day of the New Year celebrations.
On the eight day another family dinner may be held, honoring the birth of the Jade Emperor, and this might be the day for company dinners in the regions where people return to work on this day.
The thirteenth day may be a purely vegetarian day, to give their organisms a rest after nearly two weeks of abundant rich food.
The fifteenth day is a day for rice dumplings.
The Chinese calendar is a luni-solar calendar and dates show the moon phase as well as the time of the solar year. In the Chinese calendar months begin on the day with the new moon, known as dark moon, and years begin with the new moon near the midpoint between winter solstice and spring equinox.
Chinese New Year is a major holiday for the Chinese. It is celebrated in China and other territories with a large population from Chinese origins. The festivities begin the evening before the first day of the new Lunar year and may last for over two weeks, closing down with the Lantern Festival celebrated on day 15 in the first calendar month. The Chinese New Year has been commemorated for centuries so there are numerous myths and traditions associated with the festival, although local traditions vary in each region, even within Mainland China.
Houses and streets are decorated with symbolic ornaments which will include red paper banners with phrases wishing good luck, happiness, joy, success, wealth, longevity, and similar good wishes written in Chinese vertical calligraphy, and it is common that these banners come in pairs, as it is the case of the chunlian, or New Year couplets, which have wishes such as spread joy, attract wealth, have a smooth path to success, or a simple welcome to the Spring season.
Chinese traditions are rich in symbolism, so hieroglyphics are not a strange occurrence and one of the motives which appear in decorations is the Chinese character fu, which means blessing, but it is written upside down because the word for upside down in Mandarin sounds very similar to their word for arrive, so this can be interpreted as the arrival of all sorts of blessings and good fortune for the family.
Red lanterns and red firecracker are also part of the decoration. These are associated with Nian, a legendary beast which attacked some village on a Chinese New Year´s Eve, but villagers found out that Nian was afraid of light, loud noises and the color red, so they hang out red lanterns on their houses, made loud banging noises, and set off red firecrackers to scare the monster. Nian has never been seen again; however the tradition of having red lanterns on the whole of the New Year´s Eve and red firecrackers has remained just in case.
Red is a happy color in Chinese culture and money distributed as a gift in red envelopes, as another New Year tradition.
This holiday is also known Spring Festival, translation of its modern Chinese name.
One of the Chinese New Year traditions is a thorough cleaning of the houses, to sweep away any bad luck and make room for all the good fortune expected to come during the year. This tradition gives a whole new meaning to a spring cleaning.
In terms of the Gregorian calendar followed in the Western countries, the beginning of the new Lunar year falls on a different date every year, a day in the range between the 20 January and 20 February.