Lunar New Year is a time where friends, family and loved ones come together to feast and reunite. The 15-day long celebrations are accompanied by a vast array of customs, rituals and practices including reunion dinner, lion dances and why red packets are given.
Read more below about significant Lunar New Year traditions and customs.
On New Year’s Eve, families from far and wide come together for homecooked meals. The dinner consists of multiple dishes to share, including steamed fish, '鱼'or 'Yú', which sounds similar to 'profit' in Mandarin. It’s believed that eating fish will bring wealth in the New Year. The fish is also intentionally left unfinished, with what’s left of it being stored overnight. In Mandarin, the phrase ‘every year there is fish leftover’ sounds very similar to the phrase, ‘be blessed every year’.
In the south of China, a sweet snack made of ground rice, 'nian gao', is eaten this time of the year as it is considered auspicious with the word 'nian gao' sounding like 'higher year' in Mandarin. In the north of China it’s popular to eat dumplings. Mandarin oranges, which are considered a symbol of good fortune are also eaten, displayed or gifted as well.
Red packets or 'ang paus' are cash gifts sealed within red packets, usually given by senior members to their junior relations. These can range from a few dollars to quite hefty amounts.
Usually they are given from adults to children, and from married couples to their younger, unmarried family members. In some countries, it’s also customary for bosses to present them to employees.
The prosperity toss – 'yu sheng' or 'yee sang' is a fun, delicious tradition. It’s made from all kinds of pickled vegetables cut into thin slices. The more elaborate salads will have up to 20 different types of vegetables. The ingredients are served on a large serving platter along with piles of sesame seeds, chopped peanuts, crushed crackers, spices and sauce made of plum sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil. Raw salmon slices are also added for abundance and prosperity.
Each participant will get a pair of long chopsticks and is invited to toss the salad high into the air and shout 'loh hey' (toss high)! You’re encouraged to be both loud and messy, shouting blessing of good luck and wishes. It’s said that the height of the toss reflects the potential growth in fortune for those about to eat the dish.
The Colour Red and Decorations
The colour red is associated with wealth and good fortune in Chinese culture. You will notice red lanterns hung up in streets and foyers. Windows and doors will be decorated with posters and papers bearing lucky Chinese characters including 'Fu' '福'; a symbol of happiness, bliss and fortune.
Also common for decorating are Chinese knots, potted kumquats, and golden orange trees.
New Year, New Beginnings
A few days before the Lunar New Year begins, families give their homes a thorough cleaning in the days leading up to New Year’s day. Sweeping away the bad luck of the past year and to welcome in the new. However, dusting is avoided on New Year’s day for fear that good fortune will be dusted away.
On the first day of the Lunar New Year, many folks don’t wash their hair, shower, do laundry, clean, or take out the rubbish because they believe it symbolizes removing prosperity. The more superstitious won’t wash clothes or do any sweeping for the entire period because they believe it means they’re sweeping or washing away good luck and wealth!
New Year New Clothes
Chinese people prefer everything new for the New Year which symbolises a new start.
For instance purchasing shoes are off-limits for the entire first lunar month because the word 'shoes' in Cantonese sounds very similar to the word 'rough'.
Black is a big no-no, and should not be worn during the New Year as it is typically worn during funerals. The colour has been associated with death, depression and quite a lot of inauspicious things.
In saying that, white is also frowned upon. Similar to black, white is a mourning colour and is also typically worn at funerals. So keep black and white out of your wardrobe rotation in the New Year!
The Chinese love red as it is seen as a colour of luck and prosperity. You can wear all different shades of red, from pinks to maroon. Don’t like red? Go for gold! Gold is a symbol of wealth.
Extraordinary LNY Displays
Firecrackers and Fireworks
New Year’s firecrackers are made from strings of rolled red paper containing gunpowder that, when set off, leave shreds of scarlet paper in their wake. Traditionally, this loud noise set off by firecrackers serves to scare away evil spirits – nowadays firecrackers are banned in many cities for safety reasons. Most major cities will still put on a fireworks display around midnight to welcome in the New Year.
Lion and Dragon Dances
The Crown Complex comes alive with this colourful traditional dance. Dragon dances are performed by a troupe of acrobatic dancers, while lion dancers are usually performed by two dancers. The lion and dragon dance is normally performed outdoors, sometimes are a street parade, to the accompaniment of drums and cymbals. It’s thought that these dances will bring good luck and prosperity, as well as a means to chase away evil spirits. You may notice that in some dances, during the event, dancers feed the lion with lettuce, because the Chinese word for 'lettuce' sounds similar to the word for 'wealth'. The lion will eat the 'wealth' and spit it back out to the owners or the audience to give them prosperity.
The lion symbolises strength, stability and superiority, and the dragon represents power, boldness and excellence.
Check out the lion and dragon performances happening at Crown Melbourne this Lunar New Year.