The first day of the first lunar month is the New Year in the Chinese lunar calendar. Among the traditional Chinese festivals, this is the most important and the most bustling. Since it occurs at the end of winter and the beginning of spring, Chinese New Year is also called the Spring Festival 春节 (Chūn Jié).
Chinese have many traditional customs relating to the Spring Festival. From the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month, people start to prepare for the event. Every family will undertake a thorough cleaning, do their Spring Festival shopping, make or buy paper-cuts for window decoration, put up New Year pictures, make New Year cakes(although now it is common to buy them instead of making them as it can take a long time to make), and also prepare all kinds of food to bid farewell to the old and welcome in the new. New Year’s Eve is the time for a happy reunion of all the family members, when they sit around the table to have a sumptuous New Year Eve’s dinner, talking and laughing, until daybreak, which is called “staying up to see the year out”. From the first day of the lunar year, people visit relatives and friends to greet each other, which is an important custom for the Spring Festival. Most importantly, the first day of Chinese New Year is a time when families visit the oldest and most senior members of their extended family, usually their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents. Some families may invite a lion dance troupe as a symbolic ritual to usher in the Lunar New Year as well as to evict bad spirits from the premises. I remember my 2 brothers used to be part of a lion dance troupe during their teenager years, but I was always so scared of the “lion”. Members of the family who are married also give red envelopes(红包hong bao) containing cash to junior members of the family, mostly children and teenagers. Setting off firecrackers is also very important as it is believed that firecrackers push away evil spirits, but in modern days, it has been banned due to concerns of fire hazards and accidents. Many places hold temple fairs 庙会miao hui during the Spring Festival. These customs have been changed a lot over the years but for the Chinese all over the world, the Spring Festival is still the most important day of the year.
Chinese New Year food traditions…
- Noodles are always served on CNY. Noodles represent longevity and you should never cut the noodles when cooking. Cutting the long noodles means to “cut” your life, that is, to shorten your life span.
- Golden brown egg rolls or spring rolls are traditionally served as they represent gold bars(wealth and prosperity).
- Dumplings, pan-fried(pot stickers) or boiled or steamed, represent gold ingots and are a total must!
- Century eggs, also known as 皮蛋pi dan, should be eaten on CNY’s eve dinner. If you eat century eggs, you will have a long life-span. As long as I can remember, I was never a fan of these eggs, but my mom used to force me to eat saying “Eat, eat for a long life-span!”. And then, she came up with the ginger pickles to be eaten with the century eggs. Delicious!
- White tofu is not served on CNY, but if you fry them, then it’s fine to include them in the menu.
- NEVER serve squid on CNY’s eve. Squid is 鱿鱼-youyu in Chinese, and it is very similar to the term 炒鱿鱼 which means to be fired. So, if you want to keep your job in the coming year, don’t eat squid.
- A whole chicken and a whole fish are also part of the traditional CNY menu. The chicken or fish are never cut during cooking, they are prepared whole. Cutting them is considered inauspicious.
- Mandarin oranges are the most popular and most abundant fruit during Chinese New Year.
- “Fat choy”, a black hair-like algae, is also to be consumed on Chinese New Year’s eve as it represents longevity and is considered to be very auspicious. It is usually added to Buddha’s delight or made into a soup. My mom usually makes the soup with dried oysters.
And the list goes on, but I think the above are the most important points to keep in mind. Chinese New Year is always a big event back home, and even here in China, it is very popular. A few days before the New Year, all the Chinese will be preparing to go back to their hometown and meet the relatives. In home, we start preparing Chinese New Year about 1 month before. There is the preparation of cakes like nian gao which take so long to cook. Then, we will be making chinese dumplings or jiaozi and freeze them for the big day. There are also the traditional rituals to be done in the temple, which I am not very clear about. I really need to interview my parents about these soon…
To conclude, let me wish you all a very Happy New Year and wish you prosperity, wealth and health!