The Chinese New Year is a time for sweeping away the old and starting afresh, beginning new endeavors, and recognizing the love we have for our friends and family. Here’s how to celebrate your hopes and dreams with those you care about, incorporating many Chinese traditions.
According to Chinese tradition, the new year is when they do what Americans might call ‘spring cleaning.’ This is the time to go through your house and really scrub it down, and sort your possessions to see what you want to keep and what you don’t need to bring with you into the new year and your new start. By doing this you are getting rid of the misfortune you may have encountered in the old year.
Consider doing your ‘spring cleaning’ now in order to help get into the spirit of the Chinese New Year. Start a week or two before the party and give your home the works. You’ll be cleaning before the party anyway, and this way you can welcome your family and friends into a fresh environment clear of the baggage and negative vibes left over from last year. Plus, when spring comes around, you can go out and enjoy the weather instead of being stuck inside fighting dust mites.
Colors: Be very mindful of the colors you use in decorating. You want to stick to red primarily, as it is the color of joy, energy, virtue, sincerity, and protection from evil spirits. Gold, the color of wealth, is a good second choice. Do not use white or black, as they are colors of death and winter, respectively, and reserved most often for funerals.
Chun lian, or Chinese couplets: These are sayings and poems that are written on strips of red cloth or paper and hung on either side of the front doorway. They often have wishes of hope, prosperity, and what the family is thankful for on them. You can buy Chinese couplets at a variety of online stores, or visit here for one you can print out yourself that says, “May you be blessed with peace and safety in all seasons.”
Flowers: If you can, put arrangements of plum blossoms and water narcissus around the house. The plum blossom represents good luck, courage, and hope, while the narcissus is prosperity. Chrysanthemums will bring longevity, sunflowers bless the family with a good year, and bamboo is a fun, ethnic addition.
Lanterns: Hanging lanterns is a fun way to light up the house, or just add to the ambiance. Traditional Chinese paper lanterns hung for the New Year are colorful and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. You can look for them in most party accessory stores, or make your own.
Chinese knots: The art of Chinese knotting dates back to prehistoric times, and makes elegant decorations for your front door or the walls. They can range from simple designs to highly elaborate. Chinese knots are available at many Asian-themed stores, or you can visit here or here to learn the basics so you can make your own.
Asking your guests to follow a dress code can be a fun culture lesson. Tell them to wear some item of clothing that is red, so they can be protected from evil spirits and summon happiness and good luck into their lives. Also suggest that white and black are not good colors to wear, keeping in mind the connotations of death.
Where possible, wear something brand new. The Chinese traditionally wore new clothing from head to toe to symbolize their new beginnings. It was also a show of plenty, displaying that they had enough material goods to take care of their needs. It may not be possible to go out and buy a complete outfit just for one party, but you can honor this tradition by having one item you just picked up, even if it’s just a pair of red socks.
Food is one of the most important parts of Chinese New Year celebrations. Providing treats and dishes for your guests is a gesture of generosity, bounty, and forgiveness of any past indiscretions between you. Below is a list of foods to include and prepare, with links to recipes where applicable.
Good appetizers to include are pomelos, which symbolize abundance and prosperity, and tangerines, for happiness and long-standing relationships. Both fruits also represent good luck. Coconut stands for unity, kumquats bring financial prosperity, peanuts are for longevity, and prawns inspire liveliness and happiness. There are also Chinese New Year cakes, called nian gao, spring rolls, and Chinese dumplings called jiaozi
Jai is a vegetarian dish traditionally eaten by the family when they gather together. For meat entrées, fish or chicken are often prepared and served. Usually the animal served is whole. That means for chicken, the head, tail, and feet are still attached, representing prosperity. This, of course, can be modified to fit American tastes, or you can stick to fish dishes, where it would be much easier to find the head in tact in your grocery store. A whole fish symbolizes togetherness and abundance. Here is a traditional eastern China fish recipe.
Many Chinese New Year activities center around being with family and those closest to you. This means socializing, playing cards, and board games. Maybe you can pick up some mah jong tiles and teach your guests this traditional Chinese game.
Fireworks and firecrackers are a large part of Chinese New Year celebrations. Check your state and city laws to see what their position is on fireworks. If you are clear to do so, buy a few fireworks to set off in the street that your guests can enjoy over drinks, and some sparklers for the older kids to marvel over.
Ring in the New Year Right
The core of celebrating the Chinese New Year is doing your best to set the coming year up for success. That means forgiving those who may have wronged you, asking for forgiveness for hurt you might have inflicted, paying off debts-or as many as you can afford-and centering yourself in a place of peace and love. Invite those you care for and those you wish to be close to again. Talk to people you may have fallen out with, and put forth effort to smooth the road between you. Set your year up for success by acting with an open joyous heart. This will make your Chinese New Year party a sure success.