Celebrating Chinese New Year – The Year of the Rat

by Cate on February 7, 2008

It wasn’t until our first Chinese New Year party last year that I learned really how much the holiday is truly steeped in tradition. We certainly have some of our own traditions when it comes to our New Year’s Day celebration, but not to this extent.

The red lanterns, the long list of things to do to avoid bad luck, what you should do to encourage good luck, which foods will bring what type of luck and good fortune your way, and even the amount of money that you put in the traditional money envelopes is very important. I find it all fascinating.

Just like last year, I used Chinese newspapers to line the dining room table, and we all had fun trying to use the chopsticks. Nicholas, although hesitant to try them at first, actually ended up using them throughout the entire meal and had a blast.

Steamed dumplings, Shrimp and Lobster Fried Rice, Shrimp with Lobster Sauce, Almond Cookies, Fried Scallops, Scallion Pancakes, Shrimp Toast, Cold Sesame Noodles, Fried Chicken Wings, Wonton Soup … quite the feast. The restaurant added some sort of glazed chicken wings too, as a nice surprise, and they must have been good, ’cause they’re all gone. The Husband and chicken wings = dangerous combination.

I always ask for extra sauce packets when we order (if you don’t, there’s never enough hot mustard!), and this time, they included packets of ketchup with the stash. The first time I’ve ever seen ketchup at a Chinese restaurant – what the heck are people putting it on?

If you didn’t celebrate today, don’t worry, there’s still plenty of time. The celebration begins on the first day of the first Lunar month (today), and ends on the 15th day, so you have two weeks to get your party on. Below are some fun little details for your own celebration:

“Red envelopes always contain money, usually varying from a couple of dollars to several hundred. The amount of money in the red packets should be of even numbers, as odd numbers are associated with cash given during funerals (?? : Bai Jin). Since the number 4 is considered bad luck, because the word for four is a homophone for death, money in the red envelopes never adds up to $4. However, the number 8 is considered lucky (for its homophone for “wealth”), and $8 is commonly found in the red envelopes. Sometimes chocolate coins are found in the red packets. Odd and even numbers are determined by the first digit, rather than the last. Thirty and fifty, for example, are odd numbers, and are thus appropriate as funeral cash gifts. However, it is common and quite acceptable to have cash gifts in a red packet using a single bank note — with ten or fifty yuan bills used frequently.”

“Clothing mainly featuring the colour red is commonly worn throughout the Chinese New Year because it is believed that red will scare away evil spirits and bad fortune. In addition, people typically wear new clothes from head to toe to symbolize a new beginning in the new year.”

“During these 15 days of the Chinese New Year one will see superstitious or traditional cultural beliefs with meanings which can be puzzling in the eyes of those who do not celebrate this occasion. There is a customary reason that explains why everything, not just limited to decorations, are centered on the colour red. At times, gold is the accompanying colour for reasons that are already obvious. One best and common example is the red diamond-shaped posters with the character (pinyin: fú), or “auspiciousness” which are displayed around the house and on doors.”

“Good luck:
– Opening windows and/or doors is considered to bring in the good luck of the new year.
– Switching on the lights for the night is considered good luck to ‘scare away’ ghosts and spirits of misfortune that may compromise the luck and fortune of the new year.
– Sweets are eaten to ensure the consumer a “sweet” year.
– It is important to have the house completely clean from top to bottom before New Year’s Day for good luck in the coming year. (however, as explained below, cleaning the house after New Year’s Day is frowned upon)
– Some believe that what happens on the first day of the new year reflects the rest of the year to come. Asians will often gamble at the beginning of the year, hoping to get luck and prosperity.
– Wearing a new pair of slippers that is bought before the new year, because it means to step on the people who gossip about you.
– The night before the new year, bathe yourself in pomelo leaves and some say that you will be healthy for the rest of the new year.”

That should keep you busy for awhile, but if you want more details on the holiday, tradition and how to celebrate, Google is your friend, and this is a good link to start with. Have fun!

Folks, I’ll be taking the next week or so off, but when I come back, I hope to have a very special surprise for you, so keep on checking in.

While I’m gone, the Sweetnicks site will also be undergoing a redesign, so when you’re checking in, there may be a very brief period of downtime as well, but rest assured, I’m not going anywhere; just worked out to be good timing for a few days off. :).

P.S. Keep cooking those ARF/5-A-Day goodies, the round-up will resume as soon as I come back.

* All quoted facts come from Wikipedia.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Mrs Ergül April 30, 2008 at 10:24 pm

I almost thought you are of a Chinese heritage, like me!


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