“Wishing You Prosperity and Wealth”
The Chinese Lunar New Year does not fall on the same date each year, although it is always in January or February.
Long ago the current emperor determined the start of the New Year. Today celebrations are based on Emperor Han Wu Di’s almanac. It uses the first day of the first month of the Lunar Year as the start of Chinese New Year.
Legend tells of a village in China, thousands of years ago, that was ravaged by an evil monster one winter’s eve. The following year the monster returned and again ravaged the village. Before it could happen a third time, the villagers devised a plan to scare the monster away. Red banners were hung everywhere; the color red has long been believed to protect against evil. Firecrackers, drums and gongs were used to create loud noises to scare the beast away. The plan worked and the celebration lasted several days during which people visited with each other, exchanged gifts, danced and ate tasty comestibles.
Celebrations today are both literal and symbolic. Spring cleaning is started about a month prior to the new year and must be completed before the celebrations begin.
Typically red packets called Lai See (or Hongbao) with money tucked inside are given out as a symbol of good luck. The amount is usually an even number as odd numbers are regarded as unlucky.
Lions are considered to be good omens. The lion dance is believed to repel demons. Each lion has two dancers, one to maneuver the head, the other the back.
During the New Year celebrations people do not fight or be mean to each other, as this would bring a bad, unlucky year.
Everyone celebrates their birthday this day as well and turning one year older.
Foods during the holiday hold symbolism as well. Typically red meat is not served and one is careful not to serve or eat from a chipped or cracked plate. Fish is eaten to ensure long life and good fortune. Red dates bring the hope for prosperity, melon seeds for proliferation and lotus seeds means the family will prosper through time. Oranges and tangerines symbolize wealth and good fortune. Nian Gao, the New Year’s Cake is always served. It is believed that the higher the cake rises the better the year will be. When company stops by a “prosperity tray” is served. The tray has eight sides (another symbol of prosperity) and is filled with goodies like red dates, melon seeds, cookies and New Year Cakes.