After the West celebrates the new year on Jan. 1, the Chinese and many other Far Easterners celebrate the Lunar New Year. This observance can take place any time from mid-January to mid-February, based 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, the bright red decorations and pretty flowers that are traditional for the celebration will perk up a dull winter day.
The Year of the Horse began Friday, Jan. 31, and will be observed for the next two weeks, or until the full moon. In China, this is a major annual holiday. The last day of Chinese New Year is celebrated for love. Interestingly, this day will fall 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 clean the house. Rooms are scrubbed from top to bottom. 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. 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 dishes are required, they are purchased now.
Once the house has been thoroughly cleaned, it’s decorated. Many Chinese adorn their doors with bright red banners (Pearlriver.com). These can include images of a boy and 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 for in the belief that having these items augurs good fortune. Bulb plants, such as yellow daffodils to that represent wealth and gold, are popular.
Peach or pussy willow branches may be placed in vases to symbolize regeneration. 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 across the front entry in the front door to represent wealth flowing into the house. This makes a fun activity for the kids. And who knows, maybe it brings a more prosperous year.
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