Part of the Chinese New Year tradition is the act of graciously giving and graciously receiving. I remember making the rounds as a kid in Hong Kong – my parents would present baskets of fruit, a special dish or a bottle of wine; and all the kids got Red Envelopes or “hong bow.” If you’re invited to someone’s house to celebrate Chinese New Year, there are certain gifts that symbolize wonderful things — and then there are the no-no’s.
- Red Envelopes: Children (and in our tradition, children also means any unmarried person) get Red Envelopes, pronounced hoong bow (red pouch). Another way to say red envelopes is lai see. Inside the red envelope is money, and it can be as little as $2 to whatever bill denomination you want. But try to keep the dollar amount an even number – happiness comes in pairs! Odd numbers are for funerals. Try to get crisp new bills from the bank. How much to give? It’s just a nice tradition and gesture, so you really don’t have to go crazy (edit from my kids “unless you’re my grandparents, then go ahead and stuff the envelopes fat!”…heeheehee!)
- A bottle of wine or spirits
- Fruit such as kumquats, oranges, pomelo and mandarin oranges (with leaves attached is good!) symbolize happiness, good fortune, good health
- Blossoming flowers, especially plum blossoms and chrysanthemums (both symbolize prosperity)
- Live chickens. Okay, this was in the olden days. I think we can scratch this one off
- Food and sweets – like pastries, cookies, candy, chocolates
- Round candy tray – filled with sweets and seeds
Chinese New Year Superstitions
In addition to food…there are some traditions that are important to welcome in the new year.
- Clean your house to rid of bad luck! But please make sure you do this BEFORE the first day of Chinese New Year. You don’t want to clean on February 3 as that would mean sweeping or dusting away your good fortune. On New Year’s eve, open up all your windows to expel the bad and old!
- Wearing new clothes: Wearing new clothes on Chinese New Year is something I’ve done since I can remember! This symbolizes having more than enough for the new year. You want to try to look as fresh and new as possible. However, do NOT wash your hair on New Year’s day – it would mean washing away good luck! Wear bright red (happiness & joy) or gold (prosperity)
- Blooming Flowers: Fill your house with beautiful blooming flowers and plants, especially plum blossoms and chrysanthemums (both symbolize prosperity), pussy willows, bamboo, pine (longevity), peony. Flowers and plants represent new growth and a blossoming new year
- No fighting, kids: Your temperment on Chinese New Year will set the tone for the rest of the year! So no complaining, swearing, fighting…banish bad thoughts!
- Firecrackers: Are meant to scare off the bad spirits
- Color Red: Colorful bright vivid red scares off bad spirits and demons too! Red also symbolizes virtue, joy and happiness
- Dragon Dance: Ushers in the New Year bringing good luck
- Do not say the number “four” – which symbolizes death in Chinese
Books For Kids
These are all books that we own, and I’ve listed them in the order of our favorite first!
Moonbeams, Dumplings & Dragon Boats: A Treasury of Chinese Holiday Tales, Activities & Recipes by Nina Simonds ($14.28) Filled with delectable recipes, hands-on family activities, and traditional tales to read aloud, this extraordinary collection will inspire families everywhere to re-create the magic of Chinese holidays in their own homes. They can feast on golden New Year’s dumplings and tasty moon cakes, build a miniature boat for the Dragon Boat Festival and a kite at Qing Ming, or share the story of the greedy Kitchen God or the valiant warrior Hou Yi.
I love that this book has recipes! Nina Simonds is a very well respected cookbook author, and she’s a specialist in Chinese cuisine.
Chinese Feasts & Festivals: A Cookbook by S.C. Moey ($18.21) The rich culinary tradition of China is largely inspired by a calendar year filled with joyous occasions for eating, drinking and making merry. Food, fittingly enough, plays a leading role in everything from festivals to reunions and weddings to anniversaries. Author S.C. Moey assembles facts and fancies along with a collection of festival specialties that every Chinese food lover will read and enjoy.
Beautiful hand-illustrated book with authentic Chinese recipes for many different Chinese festivals, such as The Dragon Boat Festival, Mooncake Festival and of course Chinese New Year. Gorgeous book and definitely worth every penny.
China: DK Eyewitness Books by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore ($10.87) China investigates the present-day culture of the most populous country on the planet, and Oil takes a look at the controversial substance responsible for the beginning-and, if we’re not careful, the end of life as we know it today. Includes clip-art CD and wall poster.
You’ll learn much more than about Chinese New Year in this beautifully photographed book. Highly recommended and great for all ages -Jaden
Dragon Dance: A Chinese New Year Lift the Flap Book by Joan Holub ($6.99) It’s Chinese New Year and there are so many fun things to do! Shopping at the outdoor market for fresh flowers, eating New Year’s dinner with the whole family, receiving red envelopes from Grandma and Grandpa, and best of all-watching the spectacular Chinese New Year’s parade! Introduce the customs of Chinese New Year to even the youngest readers with this festive new lift-the-flap book.
Celebrating Chinese New Year by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith ($6.95). The authors have done a stellar job of bringing readers into a holiday celebration. Beginning with the pre-New Year preparations, children follow 10-year-old Ryan Leong and his family as they celebrate the Chinese New Year in San Francisco. Through big, bright photographs and a clear, easy-to-follow text, readers see the preparations and festivities and learn about the history and traditions. — School Library Journal
The Dancing Dragon by Marcia K. Vaughan. In rhymed couplets, a Chinese-American child describes the excitement, preparation, and festivities of the Chinese New Year, culminating in a parade that includes a magnificent dragon carried aloft on sticks. The format of the book is foldout cardboard; for best effect, after reading it aloud, stand it on a table to show the eight-page panorama of this fine, fierce creature and the appreciative throng of celebrators in the streets of Chinatown. — School Library Journal
Sam and the Lucky Money by Karen Chinn. It’s Chinese New Year in Chinatown, and young Sam has four dollars of New Year money burning a hole in his pocket. As he and his mother are milling through the crowded streets–alive with firecrackers, lion dances, and shoppers–Sam accidentally steps on the foot of a homeless man who is buried in a pile of red paper. Flustered, Sam hurries back to his mother, and is soon distracted by the char siu bao and other sweets he might buy with his gift money. When he sees fish-tail cookies that remind him of toes, he remembers the old man again, and Sam starts to think of his “lucky money” in a new light. — Amazon.com
More Resources for Chinese New Year
- Chinese Cooking Guide – Cooking Channel
- Customs and traditions of Chinese New Year – Chinatown Connection
- Celebration of the Chinese New Year – Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco
- Fun Chinese New Year Crafts for Kids – Enchanted Learning
- A Guide to Chinese New Year – About.com
- Free Chinese wallpapers, info on zodiac calendar – The Holiday Spot
- Chinese New Year teacher resources – Teacher Planet
- Chinese New Year e-Cards from Blue Mountain
- Dragon Dance videos – YouTube
Jaden Hair is a television chef, food columnist and award-winning food blogger at Steamy Kitchen. You can watch her cook twice a month on Daytime Show, syndicated in 120 markets. Jaden is a food columnist for Discovery Health, TLC and for Tampa Tribune. Jaden is a cookbook author of The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook. With over 85,000 followers, Jaden is one of the most influential people in food on Twitter. Find out more about Jaden here.