The Chinese New Year is a festive celebration at the beginning of the Chinese calendar new year. It has a long and exciting history, and there are many wonderful traditions, meals, and activities to be enjoyed during the holiday. It is also a chance for families to clean their homes and set forth their intentions for the new year.
Here at Fly By Jing, we celebrate Chinese culture and identity surrounding food, ingredients, and family. In our guide to the Chinese New Year, we’ll also be sharing some of our all-time favorite Chinese New Year dishes and how to bring the Chinese New Year celebration to your home.
What Is the Chinese New Year?
Chinese New Year is a holiday that is also known as Spring Festival, since it marks the end of winter and welcomes the spring season. It's also known as the Lunar New Year, because it starts off with a new moon and is based on a lunar calendar. Traditionally, the holiday lasts sixteen days. The first week is considered a public holiday, and the sixteen days are split into different parts of the celebration. For example, the Lantern Festival is generally hosted on the 15th day, and is one of the most looked-forward-to events.
Chinese New Year usually falls between January and February on the Gregorian calendar and on the second new moon after the winter solstice.
Each year corresponds with a zodiac animal that sets the tone for the rest of the year—for example, 2021 is the year of the Ox, which represents hard work and reliability. Other animals in the Chinese zodiac include the rat, the rooster, the tiger, and the rabbit, each with its own unique implications.
Chinese New Year is replete with unique Chinese mythology, and the celebration includes beautiful outfits, delicious food, and lots of colorful decorations and entertainment. Each region of China and Chinese cultures around the world have their own unique traditions and ways to encouraging hope and positivity for the new year.
It's also interesting to note that the Chinese New Year is not only celebrated in China—not even just in Asia! While some of the biggest celebrations can certainly be found in Hong Kong and Beijing, but there are large celebrations in Chinatowns in New York and San Francisco, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Singapore.
What Is the History of Chinese New Year?
The history of Chinese New Year dates back over 3,500 years. Each unique religion and culture around China has its own mythology and tradition related to the Chinese New Year, but most stories agree that it has to do with appeasing ancient deities.
Nian, a mythical beast, would appear during the Spring Festival and eat the villagers. An old man appeared in the village and hung red paper lanterns and decorations, and set off fireworks. When the villagers returned to the town, they saw that Nian had not destroyed it, as in previous years. Red decorations and clothing became associated with the holiday, and thus, the tradition of setting off fireworks for the holiday evolved, as well.
Much of the history is also rooted in praying to the gods for a good harvest since Chinese culture is deeply rooted in agriculture.
Chinese New Year Traditions
Today, there are many unique and exciting traditions, activities, and recipes associated with the holiday. You don’t need to be Chinese to appreciate and engage with the exciting facets of the culture, history, and mythology, though it’s always important to be respectful and follow the lead of community members during the celebration.
Here are some joyful traditions of the Chinese New Year!
Red Is Important
Red is associated with the colors used to scare away the monster Nian, but it also has other meanings as well. Traditionally, it stands for good luck in Chinese culture and is used to keep away any spirits who might harbor bad fortune.
Wearing red is traditional for Chinese New Year, in order to welcome in the new year with good fortune, but you can also wear bold or bright colors for the celebratory mood, as well. It’s important to avoid black and white, however. In Chinese culture, those colors are signs of mourning and not appropriate for a new year’s celebration, and could even bring bad luck.
You’ll also want to decorate with red, as well. Decorations include paper cuttings, which are intricate and narrative. They often represent symbols from mythology or of good blessings for harvest. Other decorations include Door Gods, red lanterns, calligraphy fortunes, paintings, and more. Many Chinese people also gift family members red envelopes (called hong bao) filled with money to bring good luck during the Lunar New Year celebrations.
Dragon Dances and Lion Dances Will Be Performed
In Chinese culture, dragons are believed to possess many valuable qualities, including wisdom, power, dignity, auspiciousness, and even fertility. Dragons will bring good luck, so the longer the dragon, the more good luck will be bestowed upon the community. They are moved in a river-like motion by dancers holding poles, since the dragon is a river spirit.
Lion dances are also performed at times of great celebration and importance to bring good luck and prosperity. There are two dancers in the costumes, and the dance movements have a foundation in Chinese martial arts. The dances are performed to a drum beat.
Firecrackers Are Set Off
At the beginning of the legend, firecrackers were used to scare away the monster Nian from the village in order to protect the villagers. Many of the Chinese legends tell of using fireworks to scare away evil spirits and to prevent poor luck in the new year.
In modern times, fireworks are used to both symbolize the ancient tradition and also to evoke a celebratory mood. All of the firecrackers set off during the Chinese New Year celebration are red, thus inviting good luck. It is also a way to express happiness and joy. In fact, Chinese New Year is the event with the greatest number of fireworks released every year—upwards of a billion!
On Chinese New Year's Eve, families often gather for a reunion dinner to wish each other a happy new year, where they enjoy some of their favorite foods. They may also watch the Spring Festival Gala—there's a particularly famous CCTV one that is broadcast all over China, but other Chinese communities worldwide may host their own.
Our Favorite Chinese New Year Recipes
The decorations and activities have importance in Chinese New Year celebrations, but so do the dishes served for the holiday. Certain traditional Chinese foods bring luck and prosperity for the new year. Here are just a few of our favorite Chinese New Year recipes.
Dumplings are one of the most versatile and delicious Chinese food dishes you can make, and they’re also incredibly important to the Chinese New Year celebration. Dumplings are also shaped like ingots, an ancient Chinese currency.
Eating them during the Chinese New Year celebration is said to bring good wealth, but you can make adjustments. Some will fill their dumplings with coins, candy, or chestnuts. Depending on what you bite into, your future might hold health, sweetness, or even a baby.
Dumplings also represent a way of sending out the old and welcoming what the new year has to offer.
Spring rolls didn’t get their name by accident. They are most often eaten during the Spring Festival and on the first day of spring, and they are known to represent wealth. Emperors in ancient China used to gift spring roll platters that were worth vast amounts of money to their officials.
Spring rolls are incredibly versatile and easy to make. They can be served as appetizers, main courses, or even as a sweet dessert roll. You can steam, bake, or fry them and fill them with all of your favorite ingredients, including meat, vegetables, and bean paste.
Fish is associated with surplus and wealth because the word in the Chinese language sounds like surplus. There are important things to consider when deciding which fish to serve and preparing your fish meal for the most prosperous new year.
It’s important to have leftovers. Depending on the region, there are different ways to approach the way fish is eaten on the New Year. In some cases, you’ll want to save half the fish to eat the following day, and in others, the process of how the fish is eaten is important. There are also good practices for how fish is served at your dinner table, depending upon who you are dining with.
Fish can be prepared in many different ways, including boiling or braising. Find your favorite recipes and traditions and make a meal the whole family is sure to enjoy.
In Chinese cuisine, rice cakes can be made with rice flour or glutinous rice flour and are served in soups, stir fry dishes, or glutinous rice cake dishes. Glutinous rice cakes, which can be sweet and mixed with your favorite flavors, are meant to represent a higher income or position for the new year.
This may imply health in height, success at work, promotions, business advancements, and more. Combine ingredients like sugar and dates into your rice cakes for a delicious Chinese New Year dish that adds a whole lot of sweetness to a wonderful celebration.
There are many unique and exciting ways to celebrate the Chinese New Year with an eye to tradition and respect for all that Chinese culture has to offer. Enjoy the traditions in décor and fashion, the celebrations and performances of dance and fireworks, and, of course, the wonderful foods and flavors that represent health and prosperity during the Chinese New Year celebration.
Here at Fly By Jing, we want to make it easy to achieve those wonderful flavors from Chinese traditions right in your own kitchen. From tribute peppers and chili crisp to sweet potato dumplings, we carry the ingredients you need to make those wonderful dishes yourself and offer the recipes and history to bring Chinese culture and flavor home. Begin preparing your favorite meals for the Chinese New Year today.