As February 10th's Year of the Snake approaches, we celebrate the cultural customs, rituals and superstitions in this next chapter of SayItCanada's Chinese New Year Special.
CHINESE NEW YEAR CUSTOMS
Much like Christmas, Chinese Canadian families do a few things to prepare for their New Year. Homes are decorated with red banners displaying Chinese well wishes, phrases, and various blessings. Blossoming flowers and plants are common as well such as bamboo, chrysanthemums, peonies, and pussy willows to represent new growth and a blossoming new year.
Chinese Canadian homes are also cleaned to 'sweep away' any bad luck from the previous year, giving the household a fresh start to allow the good luck to enter. On New Year's Day, however, no cleaning is done – this would 'sweep out' the good fortune for the new year. Some families also light firecrackers, if permitted in their neighbourhoods, to scare away bad spirits.
Other customs to begin the year fresh and new include new haircuts and new clothes. Wearing bright red means happiness and joy, and gold represents prosperity.
Big fat no-nos on Chinese New Year's Day:
- do not wash hair – this will wash away the good luck for the New Year
- do not fight or show bad temperament such as complaining, swearing, and any negative thoughts – it sets the tone for the rest of the year
- do not say the number 'four' in Chinese – it symbolizes death!
CHINESE NEW YEAR GIFTS
Visiting family and relatives come bearing gifts, good cheer, and well wishes for long life, good health, happiness, fortune and prosperity.
Angpow or the red envelope.
The etiquette for giving 'lucky money' is to give the red envelope with both hands. The gift inside is entirely upon the discretion of the giver. The recipient of the red envelope also accepts with both hands and says a gracious thank you.
For some families, the dollar amount is an even number, as it is believed that happiness comes in pairs. Odd numbers are for funerals. A nice touch is to put crisp new dollar bills from the bank, to symbolize a fresh, new happy year.
Important: red envelopes are not opened in front of everyone. It is normally received graciously and put away for safe keeping.
Flowers. Preferably blossoming flowers, such as plum blossoms and chrysanthemums, to symbolize prosperity.
CHINESE NEW YEAR FOOD
Whether hosting or visiting for Chinese New Year, certain foods and customs represent significant meaning.
Fruit. Mandarin oranges, oranges, pomelo and apples are often used as decorations and represent abundant happiness and good fortune.
Goodies. Much like Christmas, some like to bring home-made or store-bought pastries, biscuits, cookies, and candy for their visit.
Do not bring or serve for Chinese New Year's celebrations:
- squid – the name itself in Chinese means 'to be fired' and is not lucky
- tofu – it is the colour white and white is a funeral colour
Gung Hay Fat Choy! Happy Chinese New Year! •
Michelle Mah is a Chinese-Canadian mother born in Vancouver, Canada. Once a System Analyst for a radiology software firm in Richmond, BC, she married a family physician. Together they raise their family in rural 100 Mile House, BC.
©2013 SayItCanada.ca. All rights reserved.