Feb 15, 2018

Chinese New Year Traditions

 

Chinese New Year

Enter the Future. Keep a Foot in the Past!

As we move forward into the new year, let’s take the time to ensure that we don’t cut our ties to the past, to traditions that have evolved over hundreds of years and that keep us stable no matter the heights we climb.

Many of us may not be Chinese, but that’s no reason not to follow some of the most important Chinese New Year traditions this weekend, or at least embrace the core principles on which these traditions were constructed: Family, Change, Positivity, and New Beginnings.

 

What to Wear

Chinese New Year, or the Spring Festival, is a time of change and new beginnings. New clothes are another sign of change, and are also believed to be auspicious. New clothes also add to the sense of festivity!

By and large, clothes are given as gifts from family members to be worn on New Year’s Day. However, you can buy yourself new clothes too.

Red clothes are recommended for Chinese New Year. This is the colour that is most traditional, positive and auspicious. Stay away from black and white, however, as they are deemed unlucky and negative.

There were, however, no real requirements on style or material of clothing. In ancient China, people would follow the fashion trends of that time… something you can do today as well. There’s no obligation to go with traditional Chinese clothing – though it can give a little flare to the occasion! If you are interested in traditional wear, go with Qipao (traditional dresses for women; may not be suitable for winter), Cheongsham or Hanfu (not as popular), or Tang Suits (for men or women).

 

 

What to Eat

As family is the basis of Chinese society, it is expected that all family members come home for Reunion dinner, or New Year’s Eve dinner, resulting in China seeing the world’s largest migration of people every year around Chinese New Year. If some members of the family cannot attend, for whatever reason, the family sets a place for them at the table and leaves the spot empty.

Egg rolls, or ‘Spring’ Rolls, are eaten on the first day of spring. Golden and glistening, spring rolls are a wish for prosperity. Spring rolls can be fried, steamed or baked. While the traditional filling is of pork and vegetables, there are also sweet red bean paste rolls, and even ice cream rolls!

As spring rolls are to the South, so Dumplings are to the North. Shaped like ancient Chinese silver and gold ingots, dumplings represent wealth. Traditionally, the entire family wraps dumplings together. A daughter-in-law is only considered part of the family after she does so too!

In other homes and regions, dumplings and Noodles are cooked together. Yet another dish to wish people prosperity! Every side that goes with noodles has its own symbolic meaning. Long noodles represent longevity, and shouldn’t be cut or even chewed. This calls for a lot of slurping!

Chicken has great symbolic meanings in different parts of the country – full chicken signifying family, chicken representing reunion and rebirth, chicken soup a wish for peace in Hunan, chicken feet (phoenix claws) to grasp wealth, chicken wings helping you fly higher, bones meaning outstanding achievement, and eggs representing gold and silver.

As the Spring Festival marks the end of winter, the vegetables saved for the winter are consumed during this feast. A Vegetarian Stir-Fry is a typical traditional dish for the New Year. Each vegetable has its own symbolic meaning.

 

 

What to Do

Undertake your spring-cleaning well before the New Year and take a ritual bath, as you won’t be able to do either on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day! Shop for clothes for your loved ones and kids. Decorate the home with lanterns, year paint, papercutting, door gods, upside down fu, dui lian, etc.

Shop for decorations, red envelopes, toys and trinkets at the many pop-up Chinese New Year’s Markets. In Hong Kong and Macau, it is traditional to gift flowers like orchids, peonies and narcissus for the New Year, and street markets are therefore also teeming with flowers and potted plants!

Don’t forget to be present for your family’s Reunion Dinner on New Year’s Eve! Complete the evening’s celebrations by staying up till midnight and banishing evil with fireworks.

Visit your relatives for Bài Nián, the act of greeting and blessing, on New Year’s Day. Start with the seniormost on the husband’s side of the family, and carry gifts for each visit. Money is placed in ‘red envelopes’ as simple gifts of good luck and love from elders and married couples. Traditionally, the youngster performs three kowtows before receiving the gift.

In these high-tech times, digital red envelopes are the new trend via platforms like WeChat and Alipay. These digital envelopes can reach friends and family anywhere in the world, and multiple at the same time. This means that red envelopes can be sent out for any occasion, not just for the New Year. This cuts out the personal touch, making some complain that the tradition has become too materialistic and frivolous… but as long as people are coming together and keeping traditions alive, does the method in which they do so really matter?!

What Not to Do

There are certain taboos that go with the celebration. For instance, don’t say anything negative. Don’t fight or cry. Don’t use sharp objects. Do not borrow money, or ask for your money back. Wait for others to get out of bed before wishing them for the New Year. Avoid certain gifts, like clocks, pears and apples. Avoid taking medicine. Don’t sweep, clean, shower or throw out garbage on New Year’s Day. If you’re married, celebrate the day with the husband’s family; visit the wife’s family on the second day of the New Year.

 

The festival revolves around traditions of starting the year on a positive note, praying for health and wealth and surrounded by family. And really, can any of us ever ask for anything more? So let’s all come together to celebrate Spring Festival this weekend. May the year to come be happy, healthy, prosperous and endlessly rewarding. Mozaic Club wishes you and your family a Very Happy Chinese New Year!

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