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Ring in the Year of the Rooster with symbolic traditions, customs and foods.
The new year is always a time of hope and excitement. While, in the West, we celebrate the event on January 1st, the Chinese New Year (also known as the Lunar New Year and celebrated in various countries throughout Asia) follows the lunisolar calendar and usually falls between late January and early February.
Despite the hopscotching of dates, traditions and symbolism associated with the holiday remain the same year after year, and even mirror some of our own, like wishes of happiness and prosperity for family and close friends.
We spoke to Shirley Lum, president of A Taste of the World, a tour operator which hosts an annual Lunar New Year banquet feast and culinary walking tour, to learn more about the fun and easy ways to ring in the Lunar New Year.
Use traditional expressions
Just as "Happy New Year!" is a joyous expression used throughout January, so too is "Gun Hei Fat Choi!" in Cantonese, "Gong Xi Fa Cai" in Mandarin, or "Chuc Mung Nam Mui!" in Vietnamese. You can greet family and friends with these salutations throughout the 15-day celebration.
Feast on symbolic dishes
Food plays heavily during this holiday, and noodles are especially important—so much so that Lum says a year in which her mother forgot to make them sticks out in her mind.
"You should have seen the look of utter horror on my mom's face, and the rest of the family's," Lum remembers. "For the first time in her life she forgot to make a longevity noodle dish to ensure that all family members would be blessed with a long life; but luckily for us, she always has a package of dried rice noodles in her pantry."
In addition to noodles, you can also prepare a whole fish with head and tail intact (signifying a good beginning and ending for the year), dumplings for prosperity, and nian gao cake, a traditional dessert that represents achieving great heights in the year ahead.
"You're wishing for harmony, health or longevity, and prosperity by using dishes with poetic names that are homonyms," explains Lum.
Serve oranges and tangerines as a refresher after the meal—they also handily represent luck and wealth.
Offer loved ones a tray of togetherness
Family is the important foundation of Lunar New Year celebrations, and a tray of togetherness is a common gift to extend to loved ones. The round or octagonal tray is divided into eight compartments (eight being a lucky number in Chinese culture) and is filled with treats, each representing a form of good fortune. If you buy or prepare your own tray, be sure it includes items like coconut (togetherness), peanuts (health and longevity), kumquat (prosperity) and candied melon (good health).
Give gifts of red envelopes and money
Red is an important colour in Chinese culture and, during celebrations, family hands out small, red envelopes filled with money to younger members of the household in a symbolic offering of good luck.
"Banks near Chinese communities will be getting in fresh, new, crisp bills. Tellers at these banks are used to the requests for only new bills this time of the year as they go into the "lie see," or lucky money envelopes," says Lum.
You can also create small envelopes from red craft paper and fill them with gold-wrapped chocolate coins in homage to the tradition.
Clean your house in preparation for a new year
As in many cultures, it is customary to clean your home from top to bottom before the new year arrives. Sweeping away the bad luck makes room for the good luck that will greet you as the year changes over. Put out the recycling and trash, get rid of any broken dishware, and dispose of all dead plants.
Invite good energy into your life with decor
Add small, red items to your space for the duration of the festivities. Easy and inexpensive ways to do this include swapping out existing throw cushions for crimson ones, or adding scarlet votive candles to your mantle.
Purchasing a bouquet of flowers, such as lotuses that represent rebirth and new growth, is another beautiful way to celebrate. You can also buy small, plastic firecrackers as a decoration for a festive dinner—in China they light up the night sky with fireworks in celebration.
Don't forget to maintain personal hygiene
Your personal appearance is also important at the Lunar New Year. That visit to your stylist you've been putting off for months needs to be resolved well before the clock strikes midnight. Cutting your hair during New Year's festivities is considered bad luck. What's that? You say you've never had a deadline for a haircut? You do now!