Each year during Chinese New Year, or previously known as the Lunar New Year, we’ve got to follow tons of traditions that have been passed down from generations to generations. We know you know what we’re talking about. Yup, it’s the “Do’s and Don’ts” of Chinese New Year. Sometimes we just follow blindly. But do you actually know why we do them in the first place?
Read on, and you’ll discover the top 8 common things you might not know about Chinese New Year traditions.
#1 Reunion Dinner
The Chinese or Lunar New Year resembles thanksgiving by emphasizing on family reunion. The reunion dinner, which is usually held on the night of Chinese New Year ’s Eve. It is considered as the most important meal of the year, highlighting the importance of visiting elders and family togetherness at this time of the year. The reunion dinner also symbolizes the entire family being together during the transition from the last meal of the old year to the first meal of the New Year.
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#2 Food Symbols
Food is an essential part of the Chinese New Year. However, you might not know what food to serve and what does it symbolizes. The food served must be in a complete form, which means if you are serving chicken, it must come with the head; if you’re serving fish, it must have the tail, etc. To the Chinese, wholeness in food symbolizes wholeness in family and life.
Foods that carry a symbolic of auspicious ideas are highly favored during Chinese New Year. Fish, or (yu) in Chinese, sounds like the word for ‘abundance’. The vegetable (fa cai) is a popular dish that sounds like ‘to become rich’ in Chinese, thus symbolizes wealth. Prawns (ha) sounds like ‘happiness’ in Chinese. The sweet glutinous rice cake (nian gao) which is a traditional Chinese New Year dessert because its name in Chinese symbolizes ‘higher year’, signaling growth in the New Year. Pineapple (wong lai) that sounds like ‘ong’, mandarin oranges (kam), which literally sounds like ‘gold’ in Chinese, represents wealth and prosperity.
Yee Sang is also often served as an appetizer before the main meal during reunion or any day of the CNY period. It symbolizes good fortune, abundance, prosperity, and life. This dish usually consists of strips of raw fish (salmon), mixed with shredded vegetables, pomelo or lime, pepper, oil, and a variety of sauces and condiments.
There is an art of tossing. It’s a belief that the height of the toss reflects the height of the diners’ growth in fortunes. So, toss the higher the better folks, and don’t forget to say various wishes out loud, or simply “loh hey, loh hey”!
#3 Giving Red Packets or also known as ‘Angpao’ or ‘Hongbao’
The word ‘red’ in Mandarin is associated with ‘luck’. And you know how much Chinese people believe in having good luck and fortune, especially when we include the whole superstition and fengshui matters. Well, the ‘Angpao’ origin is traced all the way back to the Qin Dynasty, which was a dynasty so long ago that even your great-grandma or great-great-grandma was not even born yet!
Back then, there was no science, and these ancestors had to rely on superstition and belief which everyone in their neighborhood practiced. So, in order to protect the younger generation from illness and death, the elderly would thread coins on a red string as a symbolism to ward off evil spirits, and also as a sentiment of passing on good fortune.
Only much later were the coins changed into pressed paper and finally the Chinese were the ones to invent paper money! Now in this present era, angpao is an amount of money given as a gift to someone unmarried. Furthermore, the money inside the angpao should always be new and crisp. Folding the money or giving dirty, wrinkled money are considered as bad taste.
#4 Hanging Red Lanterns
The red lantern is a symbol of reunion. It also represents good luck and prosperity. Based on the Chinese belief, it was said that the Kitchen God in every family will meet the Jade Emperor during Chinese New Year to do a so-called ‘report’. So, if the Kitchen God reports something good about the family, the Jade Emperor would grant them a good harvest and help the family to make more money.
Once the reporting is over, the Kitchen God needs to return home. And with the help of the lilted-up lanterns, the Kitchen God won’t get lost and he’ll be able to find the door easily. Don’t you find it amusing to know how the red lanterns came about?
Stay tuned for Part 2 on more common things Malaysians might not know about CNY traditions.
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