As we say goodbye to the Year of the Ox and greet the upcoming year of the Tiger, plans are being made for the worldwide celebration of Chinese New Year.
The Chinese Lunar Year, as it is otherwise known, begins at sunset on the day of the second New Moon following the winter solstice (21st December). This means the New Year can begin anytime from January 21st through to February 21st. This year it will be February 1st (2022).
In China alone, this will lead to the biggest human migration in the world as over 400 million people will empty the cities and return to their rural homes across the country.
1. The festival is celebrated for 15 days until the Lantern Festival, which takes place on the night of the first full moon.
2. Tradition says that Nian, a ferocious dragon that eats livestock and children, emerges from his hiding place on New Year’s Eve, but is frightened off by the red decorations and banners and the sound of firecrackers.
3. Instead of wrapped gifts that other nationalities give at their main holiday season, for Chinese New Year, children receive red envelopes stuffed full of money. The amount of money is usually an even number – but the amount is not divisible by four, as the number 4 means death.
Like our Christmas, preparations begin a month before with the purchase of presents, decoration materials, food and special outfits. Rituals include cleaning the house, putting up new posters of ‘door gods’ on front doors and then on the eve of the New Year, fireworks before dinner (which should be at least a 10-course meal including whole fish as a main course).
Red is used for decoration and clothing as the colour is meant to ward off evil spirits – with black and white being banned as the colours of mourning.
Given the importance of food in Chinese culture, it is not surprising that certain dishes play a major role in Chinese New Year celebrations. Foods that are considered lucky or offer good fortune are part of the menu, as are ingredients whose names in Chinese sound similar to other positive words.
Tangerines and oranges are passed out freely during Chinese New Year as the words for tangerine and orange sound like ‘luck”’ and ‘wealth’, respectively; pomeloes are found everywhere as the Chinese word for them sounds like the verb ‘to have’.
The pomelo, or Chinese grapefruit, is the largest fruit from the citrus family. It doesn’t have any of the bitter or sour flavour that is so common in grapefruit.
The food traditions of this celebration are hugely symbolic, such as serving two whole fish and saving one for leftovers to represent surplus in the new year, serving a whole chicken to represent wholeness and prosperity, and serving items like spring rolls, which resemble gold bars and symbolise wealth.
There are seven main foods that are considered essential Chinese New Year dishes as they all have their specific meanings. These include:
Fish – this needs to be served whole and is usually steamed. It represents an increase in prosperity because in Chinese the word for fish sounds like ‘surplus’.
Dumplings – generally made of minced meat and vegetables wrapped in a thin dough skin, these can be made to look like Chinese silver ingots. Legend has it that the more dumplings you eat during the New Year celebrations, the more money you can make in the New Year.
Spring Rolls – these dim sum dishes of cylindrical shaped rolls filled with vegetables, meat or something sweet and fried in thin dough wrappers, get their name because they are traditionally eaten during the Spring Festival.
Glutinous Rice Cake – this is considered to be a lucky food eaten on Chinese New Year’s Eve. In Chinese, glutinous rice cake sounds like it means ‘getting higher year-on-year’. The main ingredients are sticky rice, sugar, chestnuts, Chinese dates, and lotus leaves.
Sweet Rice Balls – the pronunciation and round shape of tangyuan are associated with reunion and being together.
Longevity Noodles – unsurprisingly these symbolise a wish for longevity. Their length and unsevered preparation are also symbolic of the eater’s life.
Good Fortune Fruit – certain fruits are eaten during the Chinese New Year period, such as tangerines and oranges, and pomeloes. They are selected as they are particularly round and ‘golden’ in colour, symbolising fullness and wealth, but more obviously for the lucky sound they bring when spoken.
Chinese New Year celebrations are not limited just to mainland China and those countries that observe it as a public holiday. Across the world, the Chinese diaspora from Southeast Asia’s centuries-old Chinese communities to the more recent Chinatowns such as Sydney, London, San Francisco, Vancouver and Los Angeles will mark Chinese New Year, with parades and lion dances attracting large crowds.
Iconic landmarks around the world such as the Tokyo Tower and the London Eye will turn red to mark the new year.
Will you be marking the celebrations this year? Why not treat yourself to a Parsley Box Chinese Takeaway?