Monday, January 23, 2012, is officially Chinese New Year – Happy Year Of The Dragon! Although I was born in the U.S. and have yet to visit China, I try to share some Chinese traditions with my kids (they sometimes call me Tiger Mom – I’m sure they’re just kidding, right guys?!). One of the traditions that we’ve celebrated since my boys were young is Chinese New Year. Although I think they go along with it for the “hung bao” (red packets of money that children receive from adults), I’m hoping they will have a little bit of appreciation for the Chinese culture.
I actually learned more about Chinese New Year traditions when my boys were in preschool because I volunteered to read Chinese New Year stories and bring in homemade fortune cookies (which are not Chinese but are fun for the kids), fried rice and “hung bao” for the class. In the Chinese culture, Chinese New Year is the biggest holiday of the year. In fact, it is celebrated for fifteen days, starting with the new moon on the first day of the first lunar month (of the year according to the lunar calendar) and ending fifteen days later when there is a full moon, culminating with the Lantern Festival.
Some of the traditions leading up to Chinese New Year include cleaning the house thoroughly to sweep away any bad luck, getting haircuts, and paying off debts to start the New Year fresh, and decorating the house with red paper cutouts of Chinese auspicious phrases and couplets with themes of good fortune, happiness, wealth and longevity. Often these red decorations are hung upside down, symbolizing the arrival of fortune and spring. On New Year’s Eve, a big feast is served with an assortment of dishes, all with symbolic meanings. During the fifteen day period, everyone visits friends and relatives to wish them Happy New Year, “Xin Nian Kuai Le,” (Mandarin Chinese) or “Gun Hay Fat Choy,” (Cantonese Chinese), and children receive red packets of money (“hung bao”). Only pleasant words are exchanged.
There are twelve animals that rotate through the Chinese Zodiac over a 12-year cycle – the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. This year is the Year of the Dragon, considered to be the most powerful sign in Chinese astrology. According to Chinese astrology, people born in the Year of the Dragon are powerful and wise. They’re driven, passionate, free-spirited, unafraid of challenges, and willing to take risks. Dragons are leaders, taking on projects few others would be prepared to take on.
Food is a central part of the Chinese culture, and the Chinese New Year dinner is the biggest feast of the year. The Chinese culture is all about symbolism and the dishes served for New Year’s are full of symbolic dishes to usher in the New Year. Some foods are selected because they sound like another word that means prosperity, luck, wealth or good fortune. Other foods are served because they resemble money or gold. A traditional Chinese New Year dinner might include a whole chicken (family unity), a whole fish (surplus), duck (happiness), lobster (life and energy), Buddha’s Delight (a vegetarian dish made with symbolic ingredients), shrimp (wealth and abundance), oysters (good fortune), scallops (shaped like ancient coins), tea eggs (fertility), noodles (longevity), jiao-tze or dumplings (shaped like old coins), and spring rolls (resemble gold bricks). Tangerines, oranges and pomelos are given out for good luck and abundance.
I find the symbolism behind the traditions leading up to Chinese New Year and all the symbolic foods fascinating. Although I wish I could prepare all these symbolic dishes for Chinese New Year, it would probably take me all week to cook. Instead, we will be enjoying one of our family favorites – Chinese Hot Pot.
Chinese Hot Pot is sort of like fondue. A big pot of broth is placed in the center of the table (I use an electric wok), and plates of assorted meats, seafood, vegetables and noodles surround the pot. Everyone helps themselves and cooks their own food. I have little netted baskets so everyone can fish out their own food. When the food is cooked, it is eaten with a dipping sauce. Our favorite dipping sauce is made with sacha sauce, soy sauce and sesame oil. Although I have yet to successfully capture a picture of our family enjoying hot pot (I’m usually scurrying around getting everything on the table), I did find an article on How To Have Chinese Hot Pot At Home that has a nice picture to give you an idea of what it looks like.
Happy New Year, Xin Nian Kuai Le, Gun Hay Fat Choy!!
More Chinese New Year Blog Posts:
Lucky Shrimp Dumplings for Chinese New Year (Har Gao), Spicebox Travels
The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac, HapaMama
Symbolism of Chinese New Year’s Foods, Bicultural Mama
Lunar New Year Activities in DC and Baltimore, I’m Not the Nanny
Celebrating Chinese New Year in Taiwan, Travels With Baby
Pineapple Tarts: Treats for Chinese New Year: Lunar Year of the Dragon, Asian in America
Chinese New Year Stir Fry, Wok Star
Favorite Chinese New Year Children’s Books, Chinese Folktales and Chinese New Year Resources:
The Dragon New Year by David Bouchard
Chinese New Year’s Dragon by Rachel Sing
The Dragon’s Tale by Demi
The Dragon Prince by Laurence Yep
Happy New Year by Demi
Celebrating Chinese New Year by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith
Moonbeams, Dumpling & Dragon Boats by Nina Simonds, Leslie Swartz & The Children’s Museum, Boston
Cat and Rat by Ed Young
Sam and the Lucky Money by Karen Chinn
Lan Po Po, A Red Riding Hood Story From China by Ed Young
Yeh-Shen, A Cinderella Story from China retold by Ai-Ling Louie
The Seven Chinese Brothers by Margaret Mahy
The Lost Horse by Ed Young
Kites by Demi
Mooncakes and Hungry Ghosts Festivals of China by Carol Stepanchuk and Charles Wong
Red Eggs & Dragon Boats by Carol Stepanchuk
A Guide To Chinese Horoscopes by D.J. Burns