Happy New Year! For the second time this year.
It’s the Chinese Lunar New Year, which means it is time to paint the world red and get ready for a day of celebrations. And it is not just one day: the new year marks the beginning of a 15-day long Spring Festival. The welcoming back of warmth and life.
On the Chinese calendar we are now entering the zodiac year of the Pig. There are 12 years on the rotating zodiac calendar. Each is assigned a certain animal. The Pig is the last year in the zodiac calendar and those born in the year of the pig are said to be artistic, intuitive, refined and well mannered.
How should you celebrate? Who would we be to suggest a day of celebrations without encouraging food and feasting? They are certainly not the only things to do, but that is where we will start.
It is a day for dumplings. Finely shredded vegetables, minced meat, and a collection of herbs and spices are tucked into these pockets of rolled dough. Hand-sealed they resemble silver, Chinese ingots and are symbolic of wealth. Steamed, boiled, or fried it is traditional to eat them on New Year’s Eve. But they are so delicious, so who could resist them on the day itself?
It is also a day for eating fish. The Mandarin word for fish sounds similar to the word for surplus and so it is believed that eating fish will bring a surplus of prosperity and luck in the new year. It is eaten both on New Year’s Eve, so that they year can end with surplus, and on New Year’s Day, so that the new year may start with one.
Dessert comes in the form of sweet rice balls. The round shape of these balls, their plenteousness and the pronunciation of their name in Mandarin, tangyuan, are linked to closeness and reunion. They symbolise the family being together.
Of course, feasting is all well and good, but who to feast with? This is a time to invite all your family to join you. In mainland China, the spring festival is the time of the world’s largest annual migration, as young adults working in cities make the journey home to see their parents in the country, sparking a surge of movement. Tickets to travel at this time must be booked at least 60 days in advance. This commute is so large that it is known as the spring migration.
The scene is set, we have family and feasting. But what else is important? Well, festivities are not complete without decorations.
Fill your home with fresh blooming flowers: it is the Spring Festival after all! The most popular choices are orchids, plum blossoms, and peonies. Red lanterns are of course a must. Hung from trees, street lamps, or wherever you can find a place. Most importantly hung from your front door to drive away bad luck.
Paper cutting is a popular way to occupy yourself in the lead-up to the new year. These intricately designed red artworks are then used to decorate the home. It is considered auspicious to cut animal or plant shapes into the paper. Each has its own individual meaning. A mandarin duck symbolises love, while a pine tree means eternal youth.
What to do when the house is decorated, the family have arrived, and the food has been eaten? It’s time for fireworks and gifts. Fire crackers see out the old year and welcome in the new, bringing with them good luck. And firework displays are grand and fantastic. Sweeping and disposing of household rubbish is not allowed on New Year’s Day either, in case you accidentally throw away good luck at the same time. So, don’t worry, you won’t have to do too much cooking.
Gifts come in the form of money in red envelopes. Given from adults to children. A symbol of wealth being passed down the generations and also a fantastic time to be a child.