Living in the Pacific Northwest, on the Pacific Rim, we have exposure to many Asian cultures and traditions that enrich our lives. Chinese New Year celebrations are a favorite.
Whether we spectate at Lantern Festivals or feast with friends, we find great enjoyment not only in the cuisine but the symbolism of wealth, health, and prosperity that run deep through Chinese traditions.
As you know, each new year begins with a symbol. If you’re not familiar, let me give you a bit of history … and a bit of legend. After all, a bit of legend is what gives this celebration its sparkle and color.
The Chinese New Year is celebrated on the first day of the First Moon of the lunar calendar. That date varies each year with the calendar reset and can occur as early as January 21st to as late as February 19th. The Chinese Lunar Calendar is one of the most ancient calendars in the world. According to legend, the Chinese emperor, some 4,000 years ago, held a race to determine the sequence of animals in the 12-year cycle of his new calendar. The rat came in first by hitching a ride on the ox’s nose and jumping over the finish line at the last possible moment. The rabbit was fourth, and so on.
It is particular fun to determine which symbol represents the year of your birth. See an interactive chart here.
While the Chinese have many colorful, meaningful and significant festivals and holidays, Chinese New Year, more than the others, are dedicated to renewal and thanksgiving and strengthening of family ties.
Preparations for the Chinese New Year in old China begins well in advance of the celebration. The 20th of the Twelfth Moon is set aside for annual housecleaning. Every corner of the house must be swept and cleaned in preparation for the New Year. Spring Couplets, written in black ink on large vertical scrolls of red paper, adorn the walls or sides of the gateways. These couplets, short poems in Classical Chinese, are expressions of good wishes for the family in the coming year. In addition, symbolic flowers and fruits are used throughout the home, and yes, there is symbolism attached to that as well.
Chinese families will gather, partake of traditional menus, the children and young adults will receive red Lai-See Envelopes filled with money and in some cases, presents. Often when you leave, your host will present you with a tangerine or an orange, symbolic for good luck and wealth in the coming year. For more on the symbolism of Chinese New Year, click here.
Chinese New Year is traditionally celebrated for two weeks. On the 15th day, New Year celebrations end with a Lantern Festival. On that evening, people carry lanterns into the streets to take part in a great parade. Young men will highlight the parade with a dragon dance. The dragon was traditionally made of bamboo, silk, and paper, and might stretch for more than hundred feet in length. The bobbing and weaving of the dragon is an impressive sight and a fitting finish to the New Year festival. My son was delighted one year to be the object of a dragon’s shaking, which is symbolic for good fortune in the year to come.
Traditional Chinese New Year menus vary according to family traditions. However, there are a few universal ingredients often found on the New Year table. These include; a whole fish to symbolize abundance, a whole chicken to symbolize family unity, dumplings to symbolize prosperity, noodles to symbolize long life, and oranges to promote wealth.
Chinese New Year Recipes
- Savory Chinese Pork Dumpling Soup is Like Dim Sum in a Bowl
- Steamed Chinese Dumplings
- Singapore-Style Noodles: Curry Noodles with Pork or Chicken
- Chicken Sate — a New Favorite
- Chicken Teriyaki
- Seasonal Antidote: A Perfect Pho
- 7 Favorite Chinese Takeout Recipes
- Thai Chicken and Noodle Panang Curry
- Quick and Easy Broccoli Ginger Pork Stir-Fry
- Easy Cold Peanut Sesame Noodles: A Classic Takeout Favorite
- Easy Chicken Curry – Even in a Hurry
- Easy Weeknight Meal: Honey and Sesame Chicken Drumsticks
- Celebrating Chinese New Year – History, Customs, and Foods
- Long Life Longevity Noodles with Chicken and Mushrooms
- Healthy Baked Egg Rolls with Ginger Soy Dipping Sauce
- Traveling Asia with Asian Street Food to Make at Home
- Home Cooked Pad Thai: a New Family Favorite
- Chinese Spicy Chicken Garlic Eggplant with Curried Rice
- Yakisoba: Popular Street Food Made Easy to Cook at Home
- Korean BBQ Bulgogi Wraps Made Easy in the Slow Cooker
- A Meatless Curried Singapore Noodles to Make at Home
- Asian Coleslaw with Chicken, Broccoli and Toasted Almonds
- Favorite Takeout Beef and Broccoli Becomes Quick and Easy
- Easy 15-Minute Chicken Teriyaki with Broccoli
- Easy and Healthy Slow Cooker Pork Lo Mein with Veggies
- Simple Chicken Satay with Malaysian Peanut Sauce
- A Simple, Soul Satisfying Thai Red Curry Soup
- Asian Rice Noodle Soup with Bok Choy and Thai Nam Prik
- Thai Ginger Beef: a Simple and Easy Weeknight Meal
- Grilled Teriyaki Chicken Kabobs