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Chinese New Year: A beautiful look at the history, customs, and foods used to celebrate the changing of the Lunar Calendar. Recipes and traditions make this celebration a delicious occasion.
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Living in the Pacific Northwest, on the Pacific Rim, we have exposure to many Asian cultures and traditions that enrich our lives. Lunar 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 in the symbolism of wealth, health, and prosperity that run deep through Chinese traditions.
Keep reading for some incredibly Lunar New Year food ideas…
My son and I, a few years ago, in Seattle’s Chinatown or International District.
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.
When is Chinese New Year Celebrated?
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.
Origins of the Signs of Chinese New Year
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 particularly fun to determine which symbol represents the year of your birth. See an interactive chart here.
Significance of Chinese New Year
While the Chinese have many colorful, meaningful, and significant festivals and holidays, Chinese New Year, more than the others, is dedicated to renewal and thanksgiving and strengthening of family ties.
Preparations for Chinese New Year
Preparations for the Chinese New Year in old China begin 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.
Traditions of Chinese New Year
Chinese families will gather, and partake in traditional menus, and 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 of good luck and wealth in the coming year. For more on the symbolism of Chinese New Year, click here.
How Long is Chinese New Year Celebrated?
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.
The Dragon 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 a 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 of good fortune in the year to come.
Traditional Chinese New Year Food
Traditional Chinese New Year menus vary according to family traditions. However, there are a few universal ingredients often found on the New Year table.
- 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.
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