This year is the year of the Dragon. According to a chinese legend, the animals of the planet were called together for a race. The first twelve winners represent the twelve animals signs that became the Chinese zodiac, each supposedly with their specific characteristics. You probably have seen this on a place mat in a chinese restaurant. Well, the dragon is considered the most auspicious and lucky of all the animals so usually folks will want their children to marry or have babies in the Year of the Dragon. So watch out hospitals... there will likely be a lot of chinese babies born this year!
So what do families do to celebrate chinese new year?
I actually had to google because I can tell you all I remember most from my childhood about chinese new year is getting the red envelopes! Money is stuffed inside the red envelopes and I remember receiving envelopes from grandparents, aunts, and uncles. So here are some traditions about the red envelopes:
- generally given from married to unmarried (so that is why usually children receive red envelopes)
- can put the red envelope under the pillow while child is asleep new year's eve
- should be an even number amount and numbers ending in eight is goodluck, so $8 or $88
- avoid number four in amount because pronounced in mandarin it sounds like "death" (so bad luck)
- should be a new bill
- avoid coins so cannot judge amount before opening
- not supposed to open in front of relatives
Here are some other customs and superstitions:
- clean the house before the new year to rid of all things associated with the old year
- get together with close family for "reunion dinner" on new year's eve (I'll mention food later)
- open windows/doors at midnight (to let go of the old year)
- wear new clothes and new shoes on new year's day
Foods that may be served for New Year's Eve:
- fish and chicken - for prosperity
- noodles - for long life
- oranges/tangerines - good health, "being fruitful and multiplying"
- persimmons - happiness and wealth
- sweet rice cake - again for prosperity
- red and gold to represent happiness and wealth
If you go to any Chinatown around this time of year, I'm sure you will catch a ton of festivities including dragon dancing and firecrackers.
Maybe next year I'll actually try to do more with my kids. This year, we spent time eating with family and I had fun dressing them all up in chinese traditional clothing.
Happy Chinese New Year, everyone!