One of the many new years in the year, the Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year occurs on the second new moon following the winter solstice (February 8 in 2016). There are many traditions and variations for celebrating. Preparations usually begin two weeks ahead (during the waning moon) as people pay debts, clean homes, return borrowed items, and make offerings to the household gods.
New Year’s Day is sometimes called the Day of Beginning or the Day of Three Beginnings (of the year, of the season, and of the lunar month). People put up talismans—auspicious words cut out in red paper, sometimes more than a foot long, which are pasted up on the fronts of gates or front doors.
Another New Year’s custom is the money tree: pine and cypress branches placed in a vase and decorated with feng shui coins and paper pomegranates and flowers. Feng shui coins are strung on colored threads in the shape of a dragon and put at the foot of children’s beds. This is called “cash to pass the year.” It is supposed to be saved and not spent. However, money is also given as a gift, usually in lucky red envelopes.
The meal can be the most important part of the ceremonies, as each dish has symbolic significance. All the food is prepared ahead of time, as no frying or baking is permitted on the holiday. Knives and cutting instruments are put away as well. No one sweeps since doing so would sweep away good fortune.
The traditional main dish was a whole roasted pig, and at least one pork dish is still traditional. Chicken equals prosperity; a whole fish, which signifies the beginning and end of the life cycle, is served but never eaten to symbolize plenty.
Saifun (bean threads) represent long life, while tangerines, piled high in a pyramid, represent good luck and happiness. Expensive food items like shark fins, birds’ nests and sea cucumbers set a tone of luxury. Clams are served to indicate receptivity to good fortune; vegetables are carved into coin shapes.
Dumplings are popular: sometimes filled with meat and vegetables, and sometimes just with vegetables as many families observe the practice of not eating meat on New Year’s Day. Deep-fried to a golden color, they are said to resemble bars of gold. Sometimes the dumplings contain a coin or other token to bring good luck to the recipient.
Take advantage of this opportunity to start the year again by creating a meal symbolic of your wishes for the new year or by decorating your home with symbols of the qualities you wish to bring into your life.
Waverly Fitzgerald is a writer, teacher, and calendar priestess who has studied the lore of holidays and the secrets of time for decades. She shares her research and her thoughts on her Living in Season website and in her book, Slow Time. She is currently working on a series of essays about looking for nature in the city and blogs for the Seattle PI as the “Urban Naturalist.”