If you think Christmas is big, in comes the Year of the Dragon and Lunar New Year celebrations. Often referred to as Chinese New Year it’s not so much about buying gifts but about the food….and LOTS of it.
I was born and raised here in Canada and our family celebrates like most families do. We get together with friends and family and eat. And it’s not just one day of celebrations but it lasts 15 days – following the cycle of the moon. However, what you may not know is that the Chinese are very steeped in traditions and superstitions. Here are some of the ones we follow during this celebration…
Clean Sweep: Our homes are thoroughly cleaned to rid of any bad luck and to welcome in any good fortune before New Year’s Day. Dirty stuff should only be taken out from a side or back door and never the front.
Open all windows and doors: I do this on the eve of to let any good spirits in and bad spirits out.
Washing Hair: is not permitted on the first day of the new year so any good fortunes would not be washed away from you. Actually you aren’t suppose to wash anything on the first day. No dishes, laundry etc…pretty good right?
Red Envelopes: lucky red envelopes filled with money are usually given to children and to elder parents by married couples.
Paper decorations: decorations are red and gold and often cut outs of a boy and a girl (together) are displayed in the house to symbolize double blessings like “good health and prosperity”.
Lion Dances and Firecrackers: Often performed by Kung-fu associations they visit stores and restaurants. They perform great dances and techniques with loud beats from drums. Firecrackers are lit to wish the businesses good fortune and to scare off any evil spirits.
What to eat:
Traditionally most families don’t cook on New Year’s Eve but go out to restaurants or cater in (so, don’t go out that night hoping for chinese food..you won’t get in). Every dish represents luck, prosperity etc. they all have symbolic meanings…I think you get the picture now. Strands of Seaweed (translated in Cantonese is Fatt Choy, which also means wealth) is always on the menu. But on the first official day of the New Year we eat vegetarian. Some say it’s to take a break from eating so much the night before. Others say that it’s to pay respect to all the animals. By the way, if you have real chinese food (not chicken balls), you will often be presented with an animal in it’s entirety (like duck or chicken). This is to be respectful to the animal as nothing will be wasted. Sounds strange but if you think about it… this also goes the same for noodles. We usually don’t cut noodles up to eat them otherwise you’re breaking your good luck or fortune streak. Mandarin Oranges also represent gold and good fortune (in Cantonese these oranges are called “gum” which also sounds like gold). And dumplings are enjoyed as well.
What to Wear: Red is the colour of choice and it’s believe to set the tone for the coming year for a bright and happy outlook. New shoes should also be worn as you don’t want to tread in old dirt on the start of a New Year. (Or maybe this is my family tradition *wink*)
The 15th day of the New Year is celebrated with a Lantern Festival at nighttime with children carrying paper lanterns in parades.
There are many more traditions and most Chinese families adapt to their needs and try to follow what they can. It’s the most important celebration of our culture and we wish everyone a Healthy, Happy and Prosperous 2012.
Gung Hei Fatt Choy!