How to celebrate Chinese New Year when you're not Chinese!

February 12, 2013

It's one of my favourite festivals of the year! This is the time to dress up and decorate your home to celebrate the arrival of another New Year. During the week before this festivity, traditional Chinese families are usually very busy. They have to prepare and put up fortune greetings or decorations around the house; cook or eat auspicious dishes with the families; fill red envelopes up with cash; clean up the house and invest in some brand new wardrobes. This is a perfect reason to go shop!

Here are some of the things my family and I prepared for this important day and how you could also be a part of.

Dress up in red

I love dressing up. So of course, I’d use this opportunity to dress up like a Chinese doll. Our new family member, SnoHo was dressed up for the New Year too.

{See story of SnoHo}

{Which outfit would you wear on Chinese New Year?}

I got my Chinese top tailor-made in Shenzhen back in the days. I’m actually delighted to find out I'm still able to fit in it. It was not completely traditional because I made a few design changes to the original. I tweaked the sleeves into flare sleeves. I turned the original upright mandarin collar into an off-sided peter pan collar. The buttons on the front chest also line down diagonally instead of straight down the middle. You can see that I always try to personalize everything and add my own personality. Although, less people are willing to wear the traditional outfits these days. But, another way to dress up for Chinese New Year is to wear something bright like Red and Gold! Chinese people love these colours. They bring us good luck fortune.
{Shimmery Lace Top | Hong Kong, Red Skirt | Forever 21, Leopard Ankle Boots | Forever 21, Red Should Bag | Zara, Gold Heart Chain Bracelet | Tory Burch}
{Red Pockets Inspired Nails for Chinese New Year}
Write Chinese New Year couplets 揮春

Chinese New Year couplets represent wishes. People often buy these from the market. Those with calligraphy talents usually hand write their own on red papers. The two wishes that I have are “forever beautiful” and “whatever you like” after translation.

These wishes are often 4-letter words. Here is a list of them with translation for you to write your own:

Best wishes for the year to come!

Good luck in the year ahead!

May you come into a good fortune!

Live long and proper!

May many fortunes find their way to you!

{Whatever you like (left), Forever beautiful (right)}

Prepare a candy tray 全盒

Families keep a tray of candies and sweets in the house to greet guests during the Chinese New Year. The tray is a symbol of perfection. Traditionally, you'll find melon seeds and candied lotus seeds in the candy tray. Depending on what you like though, you could fill it up with any sweets you want. We like to fill ours up with candies that we know we could finish. Otherwise, it would be a long time until we could give them away on Halloween.

Make a “Fook” Sign 福到

The word, "Fook" means fortune or blessings. The traditional way of putting this sign is on the front door upside down, meaning that fortune will come to you.

Buy fresh plants

For good fortune, buy a bunch of cherry blossoms, bamboos or even orchids from any Chinese market for your home decor. If you don’t like to maintain real plants, here is how you can make your own Cherry Blossoms with felt. These will last forever.

{ Make your own Cherry Blossoms for Chinese New Year}

Fill red packets or envelopes with cash 逗利是

Married couples and elders prepare these red packets with cash to gift the young ones.

Historically-speaking, this "lucky money" is for suppressing evil spirits. Nowadays, people just think of it as a simple way of gifting. The receiver of these red packets will need to keep them under the pillow on New Year's eve before he/she can open them up the next day. I tend to use mine up fairly quickly. God knows why.

Plan a family dinner and eat lucky food 團年飯

Yes! Eating is the best part of Chinese New Year! We don't just eat any food, like everything else we do for this celebration, they have to be "lucky". So what's considered lucky food? Believe it or not, dishes that rhyme or sound like any positive vocabularies, are considered auspicious and lucky. Also, Chinese New Year is a time to bring the family together which is why it often involves big dinners with many lucky dishes. 

Incorporate these to your dinners on New Year's eve:

Mandarin Oranges 吉 (pronounced "gut") - most popular fruit for Chinese New Year, all because it sounds like the word, “luck”.

Brown Sugar Rice Cakes 年糕 (pronounced "leen go") – my favourite Chinese dish, which sounds the same as 年高(糕) "year high".

Turnip Cakes 蘿蔔糕 (pronounced "law bak go") – symbolizes progression

Fish 魚 (pronounced "yu")  – Usually steamed and meaning “to have surpluses every year”

Melon seeds 瓜子 (pronounced "gwa jee") – symbolizes fertility

Black moss with dried oysters 髮菜蠔豉 (pronounced "fat choy ho see") – it sounds the same as prosperity. You rarely see this dish unless it's an important occasion since Black Moss is expensive and banned from China. I used to think that I'm eating hair when I was young because they really do look like hair (but with flavour)!

These are just some of the food that we get to stuff ourselves with without feeling too guilty in the New Year.  If you want to practice or improve your Chinese, try relating a type of food to some sort of lucky idioms. This is a pretty fun activity to break the ice during extended big family dinners. 

Clean your house 2 days before New Year
On the 28th day of the last month in Lunar Calendar, families clean the entire house to welcome the New Year. It represents starting fresh and brand new. So get your broom and vacuum and get rid of those dust.

Shop for new pieces of clothing
Since the New Year means starting fresh, families buy new shoes and new wardrobes to wear on the New Year. Some people even get a haircut too. That way, when you greet Chinese families on the New Year for red packets, you will look sharp and smart.

Hope everyone has a prosperous New Year! Gong Hey Fat Choy!

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About Me

About [span]me[/span]
Hello, my name is Lorita. This is a journal of my personal style, travel adventures, food excursions, recipe experiments, DIY tutorials and every little thing in life.