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The Meaning Behind the Symbols and Traditions of Chinese New Year

on January 25, 2019

Happy Chinese New Year! Have you ever wondered why red is so prominent in Chinese New Year or why lion and dragon dances are so important? Here are the meanings behind the most common symbols and traditions of Chinese New Year.

The Color Red, Red Lanterns and Red Envelopes

Chinese New Year RedP.C.: yelp, Catherine N.

During Chinese New Year (also known as Lunar New Year and Spring Festival), you will see the color red everywhere. It symbolizes good fortune and joy. In addition, red lanterns are hung on doors to ward against evil spirits and bad luck. Similarly red envelopes are given to children to bring happiness and good luck or can be given just to send good wishes for another year. For red envelopes, the number four should not appear in any way since the number four sounds like death in the Chinese language and new crisp bills are usually preferred since coins or old bills are less lucky.

Lion and Dragon Dances, Drums and Firecrackers

Chinese New Year Lion DancesP.C.: yelp, Tina C.

The energetic lion and dragons dances, the loud drums and firecrackers are used to scare off evil spirits and to bring prosperity, good fortune and good luck. As the legend goes, villagers found that loud noises (and the color red) scared away a menacing monster named Nian and that tradition continues every Chinese New Year.

The Zodiac Animals

Year of the Pig Chinese New YearP.C.: wikipedia, Fanghong

The Zodiac calendar is also closely tied to Chinese New Year. It is a 12 year cycle with an animal for each year. These animals are the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. These animals are used to predict the characteristics of the year and the people born in that year, kind of like astrology signs. This year will be the Year of the Pig and the pig can symbolize wealth and loyalty.

The Food of Chinese New Year

Steamed Sea BassP.C.: yelp, Cherry P.

Food is an important part of the new year celebrations. Families often meet for huge feasts on New Year’s Eve and throughout the two week festivities. Fish is especially an important part of the Chinese New Year dinner. Fish sounds like abundance in Chinese so it is a symbol for wealth and prosperity. You may find fish decorations too for the same reason. Also if you visit a home during Chinese New Year you will frequently find tangerines and oranges used as decorations, since they also symbolize good fortune. In addition, dumplings, candy and almond cookies are all said to bring good luck. Each region in China will eat different things that will bring them good luck, good fortune and happiness.

Chinese New Year Taboos

Dragon Dance Chinese New YearP.C.: wikipedia, Patrick Kwan

Finally there are some Chinese New Year taboos that are said to bring bad luck. These taboos can vary from family to family but some things you don’t want to do include sweeping the floor (or any cleaning for that matter), washing your clothes, wearing damaged things, wearing black or white clothes (as these are considered funeral colors), giving or getting odds amount of money or saying unlucky words during Chinese New Year.

To learn more about Chinatown and Chinese New Year, join us on a Chinatown and Little Italy food tour! It is going to be a ton of fun!

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