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Lunar New Year Traditions

This year, the Lunar New Year falls on February 12, 2021, and according to the Chinese calendar, it is the year of the Ox. Lunar New Year is one of the biggest holidays for Asian households and marks a time for friends and family to come together and celebrate. For the Chinese, it is a time to hold large reunions, share their wishes for each other, and of course, eat lots of food. The Chinese people are very auspicious suggesting that future success is likely, especially during this time of year so many of the foods commonly served on Chinese New Year actually hold a symbolic meaning that is related to either their name in Chinese or appearance.

Here are some examples:

  • Oranges, tangerines, and other citrus fruits

The Chinese name for oranges and tangerines is similar to the word for luck and success. Their roundness and color also signify fullness and wealth. Throughout the year, it is common to gift oranges when visiting someone’s home. During the time of the New Year, they is are especially more meaningful and common to see them placed around the house, and of course, eaten.

  • Fortune Cupcake Fa Gao

These cupcakes are made of rice flour and are steamed to blossom into different segments. They have a very dense and chewy cake texture. They signify wealth because of their Chinese name, Fa, which means raised or prosperity.

  • Tray of Togetherness

This tray platter is usually circular and split into 6 or 8 different compartments containing sweets, dried fruit, seeds, and nuts. It is offered as a sign of welcoming when guests visit your home. The numbers 6 and 8 are very lucky numbers because they sound like the Chinese word for luck and wealth, respectively. Having a mix of snacks in this tray symbolizes unity but the individual items are also significant. Here are some of the common foods one might find in these trays:

  • Black watermelon seeds = fertility

  • Peanuts = longevity

  • Pistachios = happiness

  • Candied ginger = good health and longevity

  • Dried candied lotus root = abundance

  • Dried candied coconut = family togetherness and unity

  • Dried kumquats = gold and prosperity

  • Fruit candies = happiness

  • Vegetarian Stew or Buddha’s Delight (“Jai”)

This stew is enjoyed as the first meal on the first day of the New Year. It is thought to bring good luck and prosperity for the year throughout and according to Buddhist tradition, the vegetarian nature of this dish is intended to purify oneself by not causing harm to any animal. There are numerous variations to this dish and you can really add any vegetable you want. Some of the most common ingredients, at least in my house, are lotus root, bean curd sheets, black moss, wood ear mushroom, shiitake mushroom, carrot, water chestnut, cellophane noodles, and cabbage.

  • Dumplings

The Chinese name for dumplings sounds like the word for wealth. The type of dumplings made will depend on where your family originated in china as each village has their own specialties and traditions. This includes the ingredients added, the flour used, and the way it is cooked. Some of the most common ingredients one may find are minced pork, shrimp, vegetables, and peanuts.

  • Steamed fish

  • After a whole fish with sliced ginger is steamed, hot oil and soy sauce are usually poured over to add in flavor. It is then garnished with scallion and cilantro. It is important to serve a whole fish because this dish is meant to signify prosperity from beginning to end (head to tail). There should also be leftovers of the fish to eat for the next day to signify that there is a surplus of wealth to be enjoyed, adding to the dish’s meaning of prosperity. Fun fact: the head of the fish should also be facing the elders of the table to show respect and be eaten by them first.

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