As Chinese New Year 2014 approaches, I am honored to share this space with my friend Dee, who lived in China for several years and continues to work in the Chinese travel industry. Take a peek into another culture ~ Celebrate Chinese New Year with your family.
Chinese New Year is a time when the Chinese come together to celebrate families and the changing of one year to the next. On January 31st China will be welcoming the Year of the Horse or Ma Nian (马年) which is the beginning of their Spring Festival Celebration. This family centered celebration involves food, gift giving or hong bao (red envelope), parades, parties and lots and lots of fireworks.
How China celebrates Chinese New Year
Families will come together on the eve of the New Year to prepare many different dishes for their dinner. This dinner is usually the highlight of Spring Festival. Three dishes are traditionally included in the meal. They are fish, hard liquor and dumplings.
Fish is included because fish in Mandarin is “yu” (鱼) and the word for surplus is also yu 余, so by including fish in the dinner and leaving some at the end symbolizes that the family will have enough in the coming new year. However, they must be careful not to break any bones of the fish, as it will bring bad luck to the family.
Hard liquor is included as the word for alcohol is “jiu” (酒) and the word for longevity is ” jiu” (久). They sound the same, so in Chinese culture it means the family will have longevity in their future.
Last and most important is the dumplings or “jiaozi” (饺子) as they represent wealth because they are shaped like the ancient Chinese silver and gold ingots. In China families sit around the table to wrap the dumplings in preparation for the feast. While wrapping the jiaozi a member of the family will wrap a special one that includes a gold coin. The family member who eats the dumpling with the coin will have good luck in the coming year. Traditionally these will be eaten starting at midnight and throughout the two weeks of the Spring Festival which finishes with the Lantern festival.
Everyone in the family participates in this activity from the oldest to the youngest of members. At the same time they will watch the CCTV’s New Year Gala. Other big event during the New Year continue well into the next day. The sky will light up with fireworks from all over the city as a way of welcoming the beginning of the new Lunar year.
Another tradition is Hong Bao (红包), literally meaning red packet. Hong Bao dates back to the Qin Dynasty when older members of the family would thread coins with red string to ward off evil spirits or yasui qian ( 壓￼祟錢￼). The older generation believed that this would protect their children from sickness and death.
Through the centuries, the tradition was modified. Now families place money in a small red paper envelope that is usually decorated in gold. Traditionally these are small card size envelops that contain Chinese RMB to symbolize the good luck and fortune you wish to bring to the child in the New Year. A more recent adaptation of Hong Bao is that families now give gift cards as well as money. To learn more about Hong Bao and gift giving in China click this link.
This celebration has been adopted into the United States and celebrations will begin in January and continue into February. Major cities like Chicago, New York, Boston, and San Francisco will be hosting parties, parades and celebrations throughout the two weeks of the Spring Festival.
However if you are unable to get to one of these destinations, you can hold your own family celebration by watching the CCTV New Years Gala online and making your own jiaozi (recipe). Just make sure if you plan to watch CCTV online, plan accordingly as China is 13hours ahead of EST. Chinese New Year is a great way to get together with friends and family and celebrate another culture’s way of welcoming the New Year.Wishing you and your family Ma Nian Xing Da Yun! That means “wishing you good luck in all you do during the Year of the Horse.”
Dee Schwerin, a regular contributor to JustShortofCrazy.com as well as a freelance writer for the Chinese travel industry, has spent several years living in Europe, Asia, and Central America. As a consultant and translator for international travelers to the United States, she is able to offer insight and understanding into amazing travel experiences. She regularly travels with her boyfriend and his daughter looking for the best places to get away from it all. If you would like to see what Dee is up to in her travels please follow her on social media: Facebook, Twitter and on Foursquare: DIXUELIAN and Instagram: Chinadee2005.
More resources for your Chinese New Year Celebration
Not traditional Chinese New Year foods, but you can make these simple recipes at home.
Crafts and activities to celebrate (and learn about) the Year of the Horse (2014).
Consider dressing in red and gold, the Chinese colors of celebration.
Have you ever celebrated Chinese New Year? How?
What other ways does your family celebrate other cultures?