Chinese New Year Traditions

According to Chinese tradition, these New Year's customs will bring you luck all year long

If you want a year of good luck and fortune, follow these 10 Chinese New Year traditions

Chinese New Year festivities are steeped in centuries-old traditions that are still celebrated today with great pride, joy and generosity. It’s a time for reunions, when the focus returns to the things that are valued most in Chinese society: family, friends and food.

To the outsider, it can appear like a raucous flurry of noise, colours and smells. But behind the cacophony extends a lineage of highly-revered symbolism and mythology that, when deciphered, explains the thoughtful celebrations that surround the Chinese New Year period.

Here are 10 of the most popular Chinese New Year traditions.

Chinese New Year’s Eve Dinner: A Feast for Families

Everyone comes home on New Year’s Eve for the big feast. Traditional dishes like whole fish, dumplings, chicken and vegetarian Buddha’s Feast are common favourites.

Stephanie Yuen of Beyond Chopsticks, Vancouver’s “doyenne of Asian cuisine” and author of the cookbook East Meets West, explains that these dishes have an auspicious symbolism to the New Year.

The homonym for the Chinese word for “fish,” yue, also refers to great wealth; dumplings symbolically resemble the old forms of gold ingot; chicken is often written on the menu as “Phoenix” to represent ascending successes and achievements; and the Buddha’s Feast is made with (lucky) eight vegetarian ingredients, also referred to as the “Eight Treasures Jar,” featuring whole shitake mushrooms, a highly coveted and precious ingredient in Chinese cooking.

Lucky Red: The Colour of Joy and Prosperity

Red is the colour of luck, joy and prosperity. Legends tell of a time when a beast would torment towns during this lunar cycle, snatching little children away from homes. It was discovered that the beast was frightened by the colour red, possibly in association with fire, and so the townspeople began decorating their homes and wearing red clothing around this time of year. Once the beast was vanquished, if in imaginations only, the tradition of displaying red remained but took on a more festive meaning.

Credit: Flickr/John

New Shoes, New Clothes: Time for a Fresh Start

This is the time to buy new shoes and clothes; symbolically, it represents new beginnings, a fresh foot forward. Most likely in more modest times when households could afford such items only once a year, these purchases were saved to coincide with this lunar holiday. The sentiment remains, even in more prosperous times.

Bring Out The Sweets

Chinese New Year sweets are more like candied fruits, but more exotic: sugared lotus root, coconut ribbons, melon seeds, water chestnuts, ginger and more. They are intensely sweet with interesting textures and a wide variety of flavours.These small sugared pieces of fruit resemble gems and nuggets of gold and silver, and were traditionally brought out to temples as tokens of appeasement to deities, so that they might bless a family with another year of good luck and fortune.

Clean House, Clean Year

If you need motivation to do your housecleaning, then do it to sweep away the bad luck and “residue” from the previous year and prep your nest for a clean start. Your home is your epicentre, a safe haven for family and friends. Giving it a good scrub before the start of the new year ensures the oncoming year will be prepped to usher in good fortune and luck.

Credit: Flickr/Monik

Don’t Sweep On the First Day of the New Year

It’s believed that if you do any sweeping on the first day, you’ll be sweeping away all the good fortune that came with the new year. This is a day that will set the tone for the months to come, so let the good fortune spirits settle into your home before you kick up the dust.

Get a Haircut

Not only do you metaphorically want to trim off any old baggage from the previous year, but the Chinese word for “hair,” (fa) is a homonym for the word “prosperity.”  A fresh haircut will not only boost your confidence, but your good fortunes as well.

Credit: Flickr/Leon

Narcissus Flowers: The Sweet Smell of Success

Most homes will have narcissus bulbs blooming during Chinese New Year. They have a distinct sweet, heady scent that’s revered in Chinese culture and when their perfume permeates the entire home, it’s believed to bring the occupants much wealth, good fortune and success in the coming year.  Also, narcissus blooms are often white and bright yellow, representing silver and gold.

Pomelos, Mandarins, Tangerines

Citrus fruits, especially pomelos, are popular during Chinese New Year and it’s not uncommon for people to buy small citrus trees to decorate their homes with or to give as gifts. The round shape of these fruits symbolize harmony and something that is whole and never-ending. Also, the Chinese word for mandarin oranges (gum) is the homonym for the word “gold”.  Who wouldn’t want a tree of gold?

Lucky Red Envelopes

These small red packets are traditionally given at Chinese New Year to younger, unmarried members of the family as a blessing for good luck, prosperity, health and wealth. Typically, they contain money, with the dollar amount signifying the type of relationship the giver has with the receiver – the closer the bond, the more money there is. So a parent might give their children  $100, an aunt to a nephew $20, a family friend to children at the Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner $5, for example.