By Kathryn Weber
Each year, after the Jan. 1 Western, or solar New Year, the Chinese celebrate the lunar New Year. This observance can take place any time from mid-January to mid-February, depending on the arrival of a new moon.
Many American cities now host elaborate Chinese New Year celebrations, but you can observe Chinese New Year at home by adopting some of the customs and rituals thought to bring luck and good fortune. At the very least, all the bright red decorations and pretty flowers will perk up a dull winter day!
Year of the Horse
The Year of the Horse begins on Friday, Jan. 31, and will be observed for the subsequent two weeks, or until the full moon. In China, this is the major annual holiday. The last day of Chinese New Year is celebrated for love. Interestingly, this day falls on St. Valentine’s Day in the West this year.
Clean and clear
One of the most important rituals of Chinese New Year is to thoroughly clean the house. All rooms are scrubbed from top to bottom. The kitchen, in particular, gets a thorough cleaning. The kitchen is thought to be a source of wealth, so there’s emphasis on removing old, stale, or small bits of stored food in the pantry and refrigerator.
A rice urn is often displayed on a counter in Asian homes and is never allowed to go empty, as this symbolizes losing wealth. To emphasize the symbolism of wealth and abundance, at this time of year all containers in the pantry are refilled and packages of food that have gone uneaten are discarded. Chipped plates are also considered unlucky and if new dishware is required, it is purchased now.
Once the house has been thoroughly cleaned, it’s decorated to welcome the New Year. Many Chinese adorn their doors with bright red banners (Pearlriver.com). These banners can include images of a boy and a girl, fierce warriors for protection, or wishes for wealth or good fortune. It’s particularly important that the front door be decorated and that the entryway look inviting.
Homeowners place additional displays around the house in the belief that having these items augurs good fortune. Bulb plants, such as yellow daffodils, that represent hidden wealth and bountiful gold, are popular.
Peach or pussy willow branches may be placed in vases to symbolize springtime, regeneration and growth. Orange, lime or mandarin trees represent wealth and prosperity. Large bowls of fruit and nuts are also displayed. Oranges, representing health and longevity, as well as gold items, are placed in the living room or on the dining room table.
Tucked into the bowls of sweets and treats are red envelopes, called hong bao, filled with money to be handed out to guests and children. On the first day of Chinese New Year, homeowners roll oranges in the front door to represent wealth flowing into the house. This makes for a fun activity for the kids, and who knows, maybe bring a more prosperous year!
© Kathryn Weber, all rights reserved