My family is huge on celebrating! We basically celebrate every holiday, and relish in the joy of changing decorations at home to match every celebration.
Chinese New Year (or more collectively, Lunar New Year) is the most important of traditional Chinese holidays. As I kid, I remember dressing in red and spending days jumping from one house to the next, meeting extended family, eating, and receiving money. As a teenager, I started to get annoyed and bored, basically being a shitty teen as most of us are (don’t deny).
And, as I get older, I find myself at a point of being grateful and intrigued by the traditions I used to ignore and find the beauty in it.
Chinese Lunar New Year is celebrated for a total of 15 days, with special themes for every day! I figured this would be a fun way to share more about myself and how I grew up with all of you guys!
Chinese New Year usually lands in early/mid February based on the Lunar calendar (Moon’s monthly phases). The Chinese Zodiac also plays a big part in this and every year, a new Zodiac is the star of the year. 2019 is the Year of the Pig.
I’m excited to share how my family celebrates Chinese New Year, coupled with some Chinese traditions surrounding the holiday:
Traditional Chinese New Year Events
One of the things I miss about home is the elaborate celebrations with family. Malaysia is a multicultural country, and also I found out it’s ranked #1 with the most number of stat holidays (LOL).
I don’t really get the same level of excitement and celebration in Canada but there are several family-made traditions that we made while living here. We have family dinner on the night before the first day of Chinese New Year- also known as the reunion dinner. For my immediate family here, I guess it’s the ‘see you again tonight dinner’. After that, we basically keep eating for 15 days and buy lucky plants.
During the celebrations, you’ll see a lot of events like Lion dances and firecrackers. These surround the theme of bringing in good luck, and pushing away the bad luck!
Chinese New Year Decor
My parents especially love decorating the house with gold and red paper cuttings, lanterns and other traditional trinkets.
Red and gold are said to bring good luck, wealth and happiness.
The most popular piece is having the Chinese word for Luck written on a red diamond paper. It is tradition to hang this upside down to “pour out” luck into the house for Chinese New Year.
After the holidays, it does go back to its normal position.
Delicious Chinese Feasts with Family and Friends
Food is a HUGE part of Chinese Lunar New Year.
My friends and family come together to eat and share delicious dishes that never seem to end. You can ask Elbert, it doesn’t end. Many families opt to do a traditional 10 course feast with their extended family which always include noodles, fish and dumplings.
My family doesn’t always do this, but we do eat traditional foods that each represent something important for the New Year.
Fish for Prosperity
Steamed fish with with Soy Sauce and vegetables are eaten to represent Prosperity. This is because in the Chinese language, the word ‘fish’ sounds similar to the word ‘surplus’. More of all good things!
Dumplings for Wealth
One of my favourites! Dumplings are eaten to represent wealth. They are usually filled with minced meat and chopped vegetables wrapped in a dough.
Legend says that the more dumplings you eat, the more money you will make in the New Year.
Rice Cake or New Year Cake for Greater Heights
Glutinous Rice Cake is a dish that is sweet, sticky and has a similar texture to mochi. It represents getting higher each year, whether that be in height, success, better grades or even promotions at work. Unfortunately, the height part didn’t pan out so well for me.
Elbert’s Korean, so for his family, we eat the Korean Rice Cake noodles in addition to everything else!
Noodles, Noodles, Noodles for Happiness
I will eat all kinds of noodles during Chinese New Year. From fried, to soup noodles, boiled, you name it!
During Chinese New Year, we don’t cut the noodles when serving them. It’s said that the longer the noodle you slurp the longer your happiness and life will be.
Yee Sang/Lou Sang
In Malaysia, we have this dish known as Yee Sang. I found out after about 2 years living in Vancouver, that this tradition seems to be very much a Malaysian Chinese thing, and not an overarching Chinese tradition.
The Yee Sang dish is a colour dish consisting of coloured crackers, salmon, and topped with a yummy sweet sauce! The family is supposed to gather with chopsticks and lift parts of the dish, mixing them together – all while speaking well wishes and hopes for the new year! It’s a fun tradition, and a messy one!
Giving Out and Collecting Red Envelopes
A large part of the Chinese New Year tradition involves visiting homes of relatives. It’s a time to see all your aunts and uncles, grandparents, cousins etc. that you haven’t seen through the year.
It’s basically one big party.
One of the most exciting traditions is getting to collect Lai See/Ang Paos, also known as red envelopes or lucky money! Adults who are married will put money into these special red envelopes and give them out to those who are younger than them that haven’t been married yet. When you receive a red envelope, you say special phrases that bless the giver for the new year.
Traditional Chinese New Year Outfits
As with every holiday, there is always festive outfits that come with the season!
The main colour of Chinese New Year is of course red. Which is perfect because if you don’t know, red’s kinda my fav colour.
Red is a symbol of luck and good fortune and everyone loves to wear the colour to get in the spirit. It’s also a great excuse to shop because you’re expected to wear new items from head to toe!
One of my favourite accessories this year is the Monica Vinader Linear Solo Corded Bracelet in Red! If you’re looking for this bracelet or their special Bessie the Pig pendant, you can shop online or at the Monica Vinader shop-in-shop at Nordstrom Pacific Centre in Vancouver!
Additional Chinese New Year Traditions/Superstitions
My parents also follow other traditions that don’t really fall under a category.
The days leading up to Chinese New Year, we clean the house together to get it ready.
That said, on Chinese New Year itself, there is absolutely no sweeping or cleaning of any kind as that signifies sweeping out the luck. You also aren’t allowed to wash your hair because you can also wash out the money and luck for the rest of the year. Dry Shampoo it is!
I hope you enjoyed learning a little bit about my family traditions for Chinese Lunar New Year! It’s what makes having different cultures unique, beautiful and different. Especially with everything happening in the world, my hope is that we all embrace diversity and our uniques-ness, and learn from each other. Click here to read about how proud I am of my Asian Background
So to everyone, Sun Leen Fai Lok , Happy New Year! May 2019 bring you health and prosperity!
Till next time,