What Is Chinese New Year?
Traditions and Symbols of Chinese New Year
By Laura Young
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There are many traditions and symbols associated with Chinese New Year. Here are a handful of the most popular practices.
Clean house and new clothes
According to Celebrate Chinese New Year by Elaine A. Kule, prior to the first day of the New Year it is customary for families to thoroughly clean their homes from top to bottom. Doing this is said to clear out any back luck from the previous year and to ready the house to accept good luck for the coming year.
All cleaning must be finished before New Year's Day so there is no chance of accidentally throwing out the good fortune of the new year. "Before New Year's Day you want to buy new clothes or cut your hair" in order to have a fresh start, says Ng. Wearing black is not allowed due to its association with death, however, wearing red is encouraged as the color is associated with warding off bad spirits.
Decorate the house
Another popular custom is to hang up signs and posters on doors and windows with the Chinese word fu written on them, which translates to luck and happiness. Buying flowers for the home is also commonplace since they symbolize the coming of spring and a new beginning. In Chinese neighborhoods, special lunar New Year flower markets often sprout up during the days prior to the New Year. Check out our charming plum blossom craft and other Chinese New Year decorations you can make for your home.
Eat with your family
On the eve of the Chinese New Year it is customary to visit with relatives and partake in a large dinner where a number of specific foods are served.
"Typically families do eight or nine dishes because they are lucky numbers," says Grace Young, author of The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen. "The Chinese word for eight is baat [in Cantonese], which rhymes with faat, the word for prosperity." The word for nine means "long-lasting."
"A lot of the foods are very symbolic," explains Ng. Some popular foods include: dumplings ("because they look like golden nuggets" says Ng), oranges ("because they are perfectly round, symbolizing completeness and wholeness"), and long noodles ("served to symbolize long life").
Sticky rice cakes and sweets are also served and are tied to a story about the Kitchen God-- a Santa Claus-like figure who reports to the Jade Emperor in heaven on whether families have been good or bad through the course of the year. According to legend, when families serve the Kitchen God sticky, delicious foods, his mouth gets stuck together and therefore he cannot report any bad things about the family to the Jade Emperor.