Chinese New Year 4

Chinese New Year is just around the corner. 2019’s Chinese New Year will be celebrated on February 5. Over the course of these few weeks, I am re-publishing a series of posts that I wrote last year to help explain this great holiday and how its celebrated.

There is a great deal of symbolism involved in the decorations and traditions that surround Chinese New Year. Some of this symbolism comes from superstitions in Chinese society, some from plays on words in the Chinese language, and others from traditional Chinese legends.

Firecrackers are widely used on Chinese New Years Eve and throughout the fifteen-day holiday season between Spring Festival and Lantern Festival. Firecrackers are lit to scare away evil spirits and bad luck that would otherwise come in the new year. They are symbolic of the firecrackers used to scare away the legendary monster, Nian (more on Nian in the next post).

Firecracker Decorations

Fish is another common symbol around the new year. Fish shaped ornaments are used to decorate homes because the Chinese word for ‘fish’ sounds the same as the Chinese word for ‘abundance’ which means having more than you need of something. In this way, Chinese people hang up fish decorations in the hope that they will be prosperous in the new year.

Fish, or ‘Abundance’, Decoration

The 福 (pronounced Fu) character is commonly affixed upside down to the doors of homes at Chinese New Year. This is because Fu means blessing, and the Chinese character for ‘upside down’ sounds the same as the word for ‘arrive’. This is a play on words that means ‘Blessing arrives’.

Upside-down 福,’Blessing Arrives’

Even the food at Chinese New Year isn’t exempt from symbolism. Dumplings represent togetherness, noodles represent longevity (long life), and sticky rice cakes signify improving fortune.

Dumplings for ‘togetherness’

There is truly a great amount of symbolism throughout the Chinese New Year celebration. Symbolism can be found in almost every part of the holiday. One of the most interesting points of symbolism, however, is surprisingly similar to a symbol found in the Bible. But more on that in the last post…

Chinese New Year 3

Chinese New Year is just around the corner. 2019’s Chinese New Year will be celebrated on February 5. Over the course of these few weeks, I will be re-publishing a series of posts that I wrote last year to help explain this great holiday and how its celebrated.

After the reunion dinner on the eve of Chinese New Year, the fifteen day long new year celebration finally kicks off. For the first couple of days, people spend their time going to the homes of family to 拜年, which means to “pay a New Year call” or “wish a happy New Year”. Families leave their houses to visit the most senior members of their extended family and then work their way down the family hierarchy (great-grandparents, then grandparents, followed by parents, and then uncles, cousins, etc.). After the first few days, they will begin to pay a New Year call at the homes of friends and coworkers as well.

“Paying a New Year Call”

As the visitors stop at each house, the host will have prepared 年货, or snacks prepared for Chinese New Year. In southeast China, where I lived for five years, common snacks included peanuts, rice crackers, sunflower seeds, chocolates, and candies. Tea is usually served as well.

New Year Snacks

When families arrive at the homes, they are usually greeted by the hosts with 恭喜发财!This means, “May you be happy and prosperous!” or, more literally, “Congratulations on the wealth (that I hope you receive in the new year)”. If children are in the visiting family, they will respond to the host with a 红包拿来!That means, “Get out the red envelopes,” and is the children’s way of reminding their elders that they should have a HongBao, or red envelope with money inside ready to give them!

HongBao with 福 emblazoned on the front. 福 means “blessing”!

Once the HongBao filled with money are distributed to the youngsters, everyone sits down to enjoy the snacks and discuss both the happenings of the previous year as well as hopes for the new year. As everyone is off of work and out of school for at least the first five days or so, this is a time of relaxation and refreshment before taking on the new year.

Many of the fifteen days have special significance as well. Some celebrate the supposed birthdays of the god of wealth or the Jade Emperor, while the final day is called Lantern Festival. On Lantern Festival, families eat rice dumplings and walk through the streets at night carrying lighted paper lanterns before finally releasing them to float away – much like miniature hot-air balloons!

The release of lanterns during Lantern Festival.

Chinese New Year is truly a great time of year! It is traditionally a time of family fun and relaxation, and it is also filled with different symbolic customs and rituals. The symbolism is truly worth mentioning…

Chinese New Year 2

Chinese New Year is just around the corner. 2019’s Chinese New Year will be celebrated on February 5. Over the course of the next few weeks, I will be re-publishing a series of posts that I wrote last year to help explain this great holiday and how its celebrated.

The festivities for Chinese New Year actually begin on Chinese New Year’s Eve. The highlight of the evening is the 年夜饭 which in English is often called the reunion dinner. The dinner is traditionally very large and includes many different meat dishes with chicken and pork typically a must. Fish is also very common. In Hakka homes (Anny Grace is Hakka), we typically have eight dishes, each with a different featured meat. Pork, beef, chicken, duck, and fish are all a must.

Reunion dinner.
Reunion dinner.

In northern China, dumplings are an essential part of the reunion dinner meal, while 年糕 , “year cake” is often made and given as a gift to relatives and friends in the south.

After the meal, firecrackers are traditionally lit just outside the doorways of houses to scare away evil spirits and usher in the new year. Fireworks are also increasingly common. In modern China, New Year’s Gala is broadcast on television and watched by families throughout China in the hours leading up to midnight. The Gala includes musical, comedy, and drama performances and has hundreds of millions of viewers each year.

Firecrackers.
Firecrackers.

After all of these festivities, the big day has finally arrived – Chinese New Year…