Symbolism in Food and Decoration : Chinese New Year -

January 31, 2014

Decorations are an important feature of the celebrations for the Chinese New Year. One of the main forms of decoration are the 'Red Couplets', which are Chinese good luck sayings written on red paper, often with gold trimmings and usually made up of four Chinese characters which ask for luck in terms of long life, wealth etc. Some New Year couplets are intended to be pasted or pinned in special places such as the kitchen or doors, while some can be placed anywhere. The couplets are usually taken down after the New Year celebrations, thought some people keep them up all year long in the hope of keeping good luck. Prior to New Year's Day, Chinese families decorate their living rooms with vases of pretty blossoms, platters of oranges and tangerines and a candy tray with eight varieties of dried sweet fruit. On walls and doors are poetic couplets, happy wishes written on red paper. These messages sound better than the typical fortune cookie messages. For instance, "May you enjoy continuous good health" and "May the Star of Happiness, the Star of Wealth and the Star of Longevity shine on you" are especially positive couplets.

Plants and Flowers :

Every traditional Chinese household should also have live blooming plants to symbolize rebirth and new growth. Flowers are believed to be symbolic of wealth and high positions in one's career. Lucky is the home with a plant that blooms on New Year's Day, for that foretells a year of prosperity. In more elaborate settings, plum blossoms just starting to bloom are arranged with bamboo and pine sprigs, the grouping symbolizing friends &endash; the plum blossom also signifies reliability and perseverance; the bamboo is known for its compatibility, its utility and its flexible stems for furniture and other articles;the evergreen pine evokes longevity and steadiness. Other highly prized flowers are the pussy willow, azalea, peony and water lily or narcissus. Flower that blossoms at New Year‘s time. If the white flowers blossom exactly on the day of the Chinese New Year, it is believed to indicate good fortune for the ensuing twelve months. The Chinese firmly believe that without flowers, there would be no formation of any fruits. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to have flowers and floral decorations. They are the emblems of reawakening of nature, they are also intimately connected with superstition and with the wish for happiness during the ensuing year.

Oranges and Tangerines :

Etiquette dictates that you must bring a bag of oranges and tangerines and enclose a lai see when visiting family or friends anytime during the two-week long Chinese New Year celebration. Tangerines with leaves intact assure that one's relationship with the other remains secure. For newlyweds, this represents the branching of the couple into a family with many children. Oranges and tangerines are symbols for abundant happiness.

Chyuhn Haap or Candy Tray (The Tray of Togetherness) :

The candy tray, arranged in either a circle or octagon, is called the 'Chyuhn Haap' or "The Tray of Togetherness" and has a dazzling array of candy to start the New Year sweetly. After taking several pieces of candy from the tray, adults places a red envelope (lai see) on the center compartment of the tray. Each item represents some kind of good fortune.

The colour 'Red' :

Red is not only a lucky colour for the Chinese, but also frightens off the monster 'Nian' who arrives at this time of year and destroys crops and homes.

Traditional New Year Foods :

On New Year's Day, the Chinese family will eat a vegetarian dish called "Jai". Although the various ingredients in jai are root vegetables or fibrous vegetables, many people attribute various superstitious aspects to them. Here are the aspects of the traditional 'Tofu' :

*   Candied melon - growth and good health

*   Red melon seed - dyed red to symbolize joy,happiness, truth and sincerity

*   Lychee nut - strong family relationships

*   Cumquat - prosperity (gold)

*   Coconut - togetherness

*   Peanuts - long life

*   Longnan - many good sons

*   Lotus seed - signify having many male offspring

*   Ginkgo nut - represents silver ingots

*   Black moss seaweed - is a homonym for exceeding in wealth

*   Dried bean curd - is another homonym for fulfillment of wealth and happiness

*   Bamboo shoots - is a term which sounds like "wishing that everything would be well"

*   Fresh bean curd or Tofu - is not included as it is white and unlucky for New Year as the color signifies death and misfortune.

Other foods include a whole fish, to represent togetherness and abundance, and a chicken for prosperity. The chicken must be presented with a head, tail and feet to symbolize completeness. Noodles should be uncut, as they represent long life. In south China, the favorite and most typical dishes were 'Nian Gao', sweet steamed glutinous rice pudding and zong zi (glutinous rice wrapped up in reed leaves), another popular delicacy.

Probably more food is consumed during the Chinese New Year celebrations than any other time of the year. During the Chinese New Year celebrations, vast amounts of traditional food is prepared for family and friends, as well as those close to us who have died. In the north, steamed-wheat bread - 'Man Tou' and small meat dumplings were the preferred food. The tremendous amount of food prepared at this time was meant to symbolize abundance, prosperity, fullness and wealth for the household.