China has a rich cultural heritage that spans more than 5,000 years and their New Year celebration lasts fifteen days. Like most civilizations that have a link to ancient times, their celebration involves a variety of traditions, superstitions and symbols that are meant to influence the unseen future. They use food to send a message into the cosmos so that fate can be cajoled into taking a direction that is favorable to them.
Here are some of the popular superstitions associated with Chinese New Year celebrations:
1) Oranges and tangerines are the most common symbols of the Chinese New Year. Tangerine symbolizes wealth and oranges good luck. Besides, both fruit have a bright and vibrant color that is usually associated with good fortune. If the fruit has the stem and leaf attached to it, it stands for fertility.
2) Noodles have had a long standing association with Chinese culture and long noodles are symbolic of a long life. Therefore, it is considered impolite to cut them into pieces. They are meant to be eaten whole. Of course, that does become a messy affair so loads of practice is recommended, in case you’ve been invited to a traditional Chinese household for New Year dinner.
3) Whole chicken signifies rebirth, togetherness, and prosperity. Chinese generally steam or boil the chicken with the head and feet still intact to portray the idea of unity. Other fruit that stands for a united and complete family are pommels and melons.
4) Another interesting tradition among the Chinese is to hide a coin in a batch of boiled dumplings. If the finder doesn’t chip his/her tooth while biting into the dumpling, he is destined to have a very lucky year ahead.
5) Owing to the vibrant color of pomegranates, this fruit symbolizes happiness and also keep away evil spirits.
6) Another essential component of Chinese New Year celebrations are seeds. They stand for fertility, abundance, and harvest and remind people of the possibility of good things to come. Fruits rich in seeds can be used in two forms – either as decoration or as ingredients in traditional dishes. For instance seeds of the lotus are candied and offered as gifts whereas red melon seeds can be candied or used in cooking.
7) Fish also plays an important role in Chinese New Year traditions. It is customary to serve whole fish on New Year’s Eve but half of it is saved for the following day. Only fresh fish with clear eyes and a clean smell is bought. When cooking, the head and tail remains intact and when a guest comes over, it is a sign of respect to place the fish on the table facing them.
Finally, while there are plenty of other quaint traditions that add meaning to the Chinese New Year, I have to mention the Prosperity Tray. An assortment of 8 varied sweet treats, each with its symbolic meaning, the prosperity tray is usually offered to children and guests. If an adult takes a candy from the tray, he is meant to replace it with a Lai See – a red envelope with money in it for good luck. The traditional candies in the prosperity tray are coconut (togetherness), candied melon (good health), lychee nuts (family ties), kumquat (prosperity), longan (fertility), peanuts – long life, lotus seeds (a large family), and red melon seeds (happiness, truth). Which candy would you choose?
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