Chinese New Year, more widely known as the Lunar New Year, is a holiday that’s celebrated in numerous countries around the world. Specific Asian countries like Korea, Singapore, and Vietnam have their own traditions for this holiday. In Korea, this holiday is called Seollal; in Vietnam, this is referred to as Têt, and it can also be called the “Spring Festival” in China. Although the cultures are different and some aspects of the holiday manifest in divergent ways, the main theme of family, friendship, and love will always remain at the core of the festival.
This year on February 1st, more than two million people worldwide celebrate this holiday. Unlike the universal New Year festival on January 1, Chinese New Year lasts for 15 days, which makes its ending day on February 15. Each year is represented by a different zodiac sign such as the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. Each zodiac sign is also associated with the five elements of water, earth, fire, wood, and metal. This year, the day marks the end of the Year of the Ox and the start of the Year of the Tiger. The tiger represents courage and bravery.
Several cultures celebrate Lunar New Year differently with various cuisines and traditions that show prosperity and unitedness. Homes are cleaned thoroughly to get rid of any inauspicious spirits, and the new, cleaned house also symbolizes more space for good luck.
For ancestors and those who have passed away, some families offer food and burn incense. In most traditions, it is compulsory to bow three times to the ancestor while holding the three sticks of incense as a sign of respect. Before placing the incense in the burner, people can wish for something that they want in the coming year. It can range from a gift or simply good luck.
Households can also post red banners with messages of good health and fortune on the walls inside and outside of their homes. In China, the color red symbolizes luck. While some families would post red paper with the word “luck” (福) written in gold on their front door, others would decorate homes by hanging up red lanterns and pasting paper cuttings on windows and doors. Elders would also give red envelopes with money inside to children.
During the holiday, families gather to celebrate together. People come from all across the country to gather in their hometown and share a lavish feast on the eve of Chinese New Year. People often eat glutinous rice as a symbol of togetherness due to the stickiness of the food. Prior to the meal, the family usually makes dumplings and steamed buns together. One person rolls the dough while another adds the filling of meat and vegetables. After folding them into a desired shape, the dumplings are cooked, along with a full fish that would be prepared to steam. The word “fish” (鱼) in Chinese is a homophone with abundance, so the dish is a must for the table.
Other foods include but are not limited to: spring rolls (a sign of wealth), glutinous rice cake (symbolizing togetherness and wealth), longevity noodles (betokening happiness and longevity), fruits like tangerines and oranges (representing fullness and wealth), and many more. You might ask, “All these delicious foods, how can you stuff them all into one night?” Well, we don’t. As mentioned before, Chinese New Year lasts 15 days.
As the food is brought to the table, families turn on the TV and wait for the Spring Festival Gala to begin. On CCTV (China Central Television), the event takes place annually. At the New Year’s Gala, the programs range from talk shows to song and dance performances to blessings from all around the world. The show can last up to four and a half hours, and ends with the song “Can’t Forget Tonight” by famous Chinese singer Li GuYi.
On the last day of Chinese New Year, families eat sweet rice balls, as stated above, a symbol for everlasting togetherness. The lantern festival marks the end of this holiday. The streets are lined with lanterns of various shapes and sizes, commonly including one large dragon. People can take a sky lantern, and as it rises into the air, make a wish on it.
The New Year's Gala is free to view live or online. You can buy the delicacies in many Asian stores, or taste them at Asian restaurants.