For many of my readers (the few that do read my blog for the recipes) I am half Chinese and do follow some of the superstitions/traditions. I have learned through questioning my mother, my grandparents teachings, friends and online searches what some of the meanings to each are.
I was born the Year of the Dragon and am fully participating that this year. I started off the Julian Calendar New Year off on the right foot and do not want to anger my Chinese ancestors now, so I did all my major house cleaning on Saturday and New Years Eve so I do not throw out, sweep out or wash away any of my good luck so far accumulated this year. The only bad thing is I do not have a backdoor to my current apartment so things will be taken out the front door, but there are many routes in which my good luck could go out, but I have a feeling I will be forgiven for this. I am also wearing all black and bright colored under clothing. I held a dinner at my home last night for New Year’s Eve in accordance to tradition seeing as I am the eldest of my sister and I (parental units live too far away to visit for this holiday). Tonight we will be having Chinese food as we would if the whole family were together.
For those of you Westerners wanting to know a little about Chinese New Year and the superstitions/traditions that have been passed along generation to generation, this is what I have complied. Chinese New Year 2012 is the Year of the Black Water Dragon beginning on January 23, 2012 and ends on February 9, 2013.
“The year of the Dragon is the year for great deeds, innovative ideas and big projects. In this year success in particular can expect people who are dealing with finances. This will be advantageous time to begin new projects in business and social level.
The Year of the Dragon will bring the excitement, a big ups and downs in our lives. Only if we adjusted the ruler in the right way, we will be able to pick the most beautiful fruits that we could ever imagine.
Dragon gives happiness and success to all good and honest people. Also, those who have great talent. 2012 Year of the Dragon is favorable for the establishment of family, the birth of a healthy and smart children. During this period we should be bold and not humble. ”
(You can find the above quoted information about the Black Water Dragon here)
These are just some of the superstitions/traditions that I have been following over the years as well as some new ones I have found just searching the internet. Some of the food traditions are new to me but I will look forward to adding later this evening.
I always thought it was strange that my mom would not want to have our hair cut towards the end of January through the beginning of February. I just thought it was a bad time of year, too much snow or lack of money. Now that I am older and question these things I have learned some of the superstitions the Chinese have. Haircuts should be done before the New Year begins, if you have your hair cut during the first lunar month it is thought to places a curse on maternal uncles. Also knives and scissors are thought to cut off good luck. Do not wash your hair on New Year’s Day, you will wash away your good luck for the new year.
The entire house should be cleaned before New Year's Day and all brooms, brushes, dusters, dust pans and other cleaning equipment are put away. Sweeping or dusting should not be done on New Year's Day for fear that good fortune will be swept away. After New Year's Day the floors may be swept, beginning at the door and sweeping towards the middle of any given room, then placed in the corners and not taken or thrown out until the fifth day. At no time should the rubbish in the corners be trampled upon. In sweeping, there is a superstition that if you sweep the dirt out over the threshold, you will sweep one of the family members away. Also, to sweep the dust and dirt out of your house by the front entrance is to sweep away the good fortune of the family; it must always be swept inwards and then carried out, then no harm will follow.
New Year’s Eve:
Doors and windows should be open at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve to allow the old year to escape and allow the good luck of the New Year to enter. All dirt and rubbish must be taken out the back door. Your front door and back door should never line up (Feng Shui) for all your good luck will come in and exit right away. This also applies to people that enter your life; they will exit just as quickly.
All debts have to be paid by this time. Nothing should be lent on this day, as anyone who does so will be lending all the year. So remember, if you loan out money today you will be considered a bank the rest of the year and will have money going out and never coming back.
For New Year’s Day it is food fortune to give children and unmarried friends a red envelope with a crisp dollar bill. Any odd amount is fine with exception to $4 as the word for 4 is sounds like Death (see above paragraph discussing foul words). $8 commonly given as the number 8 is a lucky number. (Odd and even numbers are determined by the first digit. For instance, “30” is an odd number.)
Do not curse today, for foul language is bad luck. Negative terms and the word "four" (Ssu), which sounds like the word for death, are not to be uttered. This is why buildings in China do not have a 4th floor or a 44th floor. I learned about this on my trip in 2009 to Hong Kong and was visiting my Grandmother, my sister and I questioned why there was no 4th or 44th floors. Very similar to the US where there are no 13th floors in certain buildings.
Death and dying are never mentioned and ghost stories are totally taboo, so refrain from telling that story about the…. References to the past year are also avoided as everything should be turned toward the New Year and a new beginning. You do not want history repeating itself so avoid talking about it.
Do not cry, for you will cry throughout the year. This means no chick flicks, no sad stories and no punishing the children. Yes parents, we are to tolerate the little ones on this day and this day only. Like they say, punishment is best served cold. Oh wait that is revenge, but I guess it can apply here too.
Wearing red today is lucky. Red is considered a bright, happy color, sure to bring the wearer a sunny and bright future. Black and white should not be worn as black symbolizes bad luck, and white is a Chinese funeral color. People dress in all new clothes and shoes to symbolize a new beginning for the New Year. This year there is an exception to the rule as this is the year of the Black Water Dragon. Black should be the dominant color in your wardrobe this year. Pair the black with any vibrant color.
It is believed that appearance and attitude during New Year's sets the tone for the rest of the year. So be positive and think happy thoughts, just might make 2012 a happy year.
Warding off evil:
Setting off firecrackers on New Year’s Eve scares away evil spirits while sending out the old year and welcoming the new one. This is one of the reasons you see Chinese businesses setting off firecrackers, they are scaring away the bad spirits that might be lingering around or to keep bad spirits from entering their establishment.
You can decorate the Christmas tree with white, black and yellow balls. To welcome the Year of the Dragon Chinese Feng Shui recommends only a natural Christmas tree.
Foods (some of these are according to Wikipedia):
Buddha's delight - An elaborate vegetarian dish served by Chinese families on the eve and the first day of the New Year. A type of black hair-like algae, pronounced "fat choy" in Cantonese, is also featured in the dish for its name, which sounds like "prosperity".
Fish - Is usually eaten or merely displayed on the eve of Chinese New Year. The pronunciation of fish makes it a homophone for "surpluses".
Leek Is usually served in a dish with rondelles of Chinese sausage or waxed meat during Chinese New Year. The pronunciation of leek makes it a homophone for "calculating (money)". The waxed meat is so chosen because it is traditionally the primary method for storing meat over the winter and the meat rondelles resemble coins.
Jau gok- The main Chinese new year dumpling. It is believed to resemble ancient Chinese gold ingots.
jiaozi (dumplings) - Eaten traditionally in northern China because the preparation is similar to packaging luck inside the dumpling, which is later eaten.
Mandarin oranges - Mandarin oranges are the most popular and most abundant fruit during Chinese New Year – jin ju translation: golden tangerine/orange or kam in Cantonese. Also, the name gik in Teochew dialect is a homophone of "luck" or "fortune". This also applies to Oranges and tangerines.
Melon seed/Kwatji - Other variations include sunflower, pumpkin and other seeds. It symbolizes fertility and having many children.
Niángāo - Most popular in eastern China (Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shanghai) because its pronunciation is a homophone for "a more prosperous year". Nian gao is also popular in the Philippines because of its large Chinese population and is known as "tikoy" there. Known as Chinese New Year pudding, nian gao is made up of glutinous rice flour, wheat starch, salt, water, and sugar. The colour of the sugar used determines the colour of the pudding (white or brown).
Noodles - Families may serve uncut noodles, which represent longevity and long life, though this practice is not limited to the new year. Sweets Sweets and similar dried fruit goods are stored in a red or black Chinese candy box.
Bakkwa - Chinese salty-sweet dried meat, akin to jerky, which is trimmed of the fat, sliced, marinated and then smoked for later consumption or as a gift.
Taro cakes - Made from the vegetable taro, the cakes are cut into squares and often fried.
Turnip cakes - A dish made of shredded radish and rice flour, usually fried and cut into small squares.
Yusheng or Yee sang - Raw fish salad. Eating this salad is said to bring good luck. This dish is usually eaten on the seventh day of the New Year, but may also be eaten throughout the period.
Long Leafy Greens and Long Beans – Greens like Chinese broccoli are served whole to wish a long life for parents.
Jai – This vegetarian dish is eaten because it’s part of the Buddhist culture to cleanse yourself with vegetables. It’s also packed with good-luck foods like sea moss for prosperity; lotus seeds for children/birth of sons; noodles for longevity; lily buds to “send 100 years of harmonious union”; Chinese black mushrooms to “fulfill wishes from east to west”; and more.
I hope this has given you a little insight to the celebration of Chinese New Year and make it a little easier for planning next year. May the New Year bring you joy and prosperity. Happy New Year!