In China and in ethnic communities around the world, the Lunar New Year is celebrated as the most important and most festive holiday of the year. The day itself — this year, Monday, February 8 — marks the first of the New Year in the Chinese calendar, but the celebration, also known as “chun jie” or the Spring Festival, lasts 15 days! It’s a joyous time of family reunion and two full weeks of intense feasting.
The festival has its origin with the end of the harvest, the one time when farmers could rest from their work in the fields. Family members from near and far would travel to be with loved ones, usher out the old year, and welcome in the new. They offered thanks to the gods for good harvests and prayed for more to come in the following year.
In terms of today’s customs, there is some regional variability, but most traditions are observed all over China. For starters, don’t be surprised if you spot an extra amount of red. From clothing to lanterns, red temporarily becomes Pantone’s Color of the Year. People sport red clothes, decorate their doors with couplets expressing good wishes on red paper, and give children "lucky money" in red envelopes. The color symbolizes fire, which, according to legend, can drive away bad luck in the New Year. Foods that are red, such as pomegranates, are said to bring happiness. Fireworks are also a major part of celebrations, as the crackling flames are believed to ward off evil spirits.
But perhaps the most important tradition is the feasting. Food plays a major role in many Chinese holidays, and the Lunar New Year is no different. While the Western New Year is more about drinking, the Chinese take the New Year as an opportunity to enjoy some culinary customs.
From noodles to sweets, there are several “lucky” foods that bode success and fortune. Start the year off on a full belly and indulge in these foods to bring yourself the most possible luck in the New Year.
“Jiao Zi” or Chinese Dumplings
Because they are shaped like ancient gold or silver ingots, dumplings are believed to symbolize wealth and prosperity. They are typically served right at midnight and for breakfast the following morning. A coin is sometimes hidden in one of the dumplings, and the person who finds or bites the coin will be the luckiest one in the upcoming year — how fun!
Rice in and of itself is considered to be a lucky food, as it is associated with fertility and prosperity, but “nian gao” (or glutinous rice) is especially fortuitous. Literally translating as “high cake,” this dessert symbolizes achieving new heights in the coming year.
To ensure a good start and finish in the New Year, it's important to indulge in "whole" foods. For example, "yu” or whole fish, ensures wholeness in the coming year, while long, uncut noodles bode a life of longevity.
Displaying and eating tangerines and oranges is said to bring wealth and luck. This belief stems not only from the bright, gold-like color, but also due to the words themselves. The word for tangerines in Chinese sounds similar to the word for "luck," while the word for orange sounds similar to that of the word for "wealth."
Green food, such as leafy greens and long beans, is equated with money and prosperity.