11 February 2010

Symbols: Chinese New Year

The Year of the Tiger starts this Sunday, the 14th. Yes, it coincides with Valentine’s Day this year. I am sure that the restaurants will feel a bit cheated out of having two special dine-out holidays this year. It’s like having your birthday fall on Christmas day. Sort of.

Anyway, I thought I would showcase here some of the symbols associated with Chinese New Year (CNY):

1) The inverted “Luck” character – Traditionally written in black ink on a diamond-shaped red paper. It means good luck has “arrived” as the character for “upside down” in Chinese sounds the same as the character for “arrival."

Lucky symbol

2) Spring couplets – Traditionally written in black ink on red paper. These are usually hung or pasted on doors to express good wishes and fortune for the coming year.
spring couplet1.tif

3) Flowers – Peonies (luck and good fortune) , chrysanthemums, plum blossoms (courage and hope), water narcissus (luck and good fortune, especially if the flowers bloom on New Year’s Day),

4) Oranges, tangerines – Symbolize luck and wealth.

Josh / CNY 2006
josh with oranges

4) Lai see (红包, hong bao) – Little red envelopes to put money in, given out by elders (married) to the children (both young and old, but only to the non-married ones), by bosses to their staff. They usual come in varying shades of red, but there are some that are gold.
IMG_0011 IMG_0010
IMG_0008 LaiSee-IR LaiSee-MP

The more enterprising companies hand out their own lai see envelopes (with clear branding) for customers to use on Chinese New Year.
LaiSee-TRU IMG_0007

5) Tray of Togetherness – Traditionally made up of eight compartments to hold different food items of significance during CNY. My grandmother would have this out to offer when people would come over to bai nian (拜年) –i.e., where friends and families visit each other to pay their respect and/or wish each other good health, prosperity, good fortune, etc.
Chinese New Year candy tray by hale_popoki.

Generally, you’ll find: Candy melon (good growth and good health); red watermelon seeds (joy and happiness, truth and sincerity); lychee nuts (strong family ties); coconut strips (friendship); peanuts (longevity); longan (many good sons); lotus seeds (many children/fertility); fresh kumquat (gold and prosperity).

I hope to be able to share pictures of a lion dance and other CNY practices over the weekend. We’ll see. In the meantime, I leave you with a common CNY greeting --
恭喜發財 (Traditional characters)
恭喜发财 (Simplified characters)
Kung hei fat choy (Cantonese)
Gōng xǐ fā cái (Mandarin)
Loosely translated, it means “Congratulations and be prosperous.”

Image credits: Water narcissus (Singapore Plants Lover); Tray of Togetherness (Flikr); the rest, me.


angie said...

This tutorial is WONDERFUL. THANK YOU for the explanations!

Kimberly said...

A culture so rich in tradition. Every stop by here is a learning experience!

Chocolate Covered Daydreams said...

I am loving this! I wish I was there to enjoy the celebration! It all looks so beautiful and festive. The red envelopes that are put on the trees, is that where the money is placed to be handed out? How much is usually put in to each red envelope? Do the kids get red envelopes too?

Menopausal New Mom said...

Wow! Everything is so colorful and so pretty! Love the breakdown and meaning and that tray of food looks delicious!

Rose Belle said...

There isn't a big selection of flowers for Chinese New Year in San Francisco (unfortunately...i love flowers). We have a lot of yellow chrysanthemums and I have not seen any plum or cherry blossoms being sold. I bought the yellow blossoms a few years ago from a friend of mine who bought it at another city. I wish to celebrate CNY in an Asian country in the future because I think it's so much more fun and festive than here in SF.

Nezzy said...

Thank you for sharing this very interesting culture. Your pics are great but I'm lovin' little Josh and the oranges.

Ya'll have a terrifically blessed day!!!

Victoria said...

Following from MBC FFF. :)


Anita said...

It's always fascinating to learn more of another culture.
Enjoy the festivities!

Wanda said...

Thank you for that little run down of all things CNY. It's so cool that you know all this stuff and share it.

And Josh - oh what a dumpling. He's just so cute!

The Mind of a Mom said...

Happy New Year, all the best. By the way I love the picture of the tree with the pink blooms. It is very pretty

Keyona said...

I always feel so educated after reading your posts! LOL!

Dandy said...

This post was AWESOME! I'm still learning about the Chinese culture (B's family speaks Cantonese but he only knows a few words) and this was wonderful. There are so many things I didn't know the symbolism of and neither B or I knew that was what the tray was called!

Serline said...

Your children must be very excited. New clothes, goodies and Ang pow(red packets)...


Lindy said...

I clearly need to go find me some tangerines.

Aunt LoLo said...

Oh, so cool! I'll be linking. *grin*

Alicia said...

Oh my gosh, I love that picture of Josh!!!!!

a Tonggu Momma said...

Thank you so, so much for this post! We are so sad because we've had both of our CNY parties canceled this year due to Snowmagedon. Ugh. The Tongginator has been desolate. I'll be linking to this on Sunday. What a great tutorial!

blueviolet said...

This is the big one in China, right? Oh Josh, your chubby cheeks are too much!

tattytiara said...

Holy crow. If it's the year of the tiger that means my friend's eldest child is turning 12 this year, and that means he's almost not a kid anymore. You have just blown my mind.

Maeko Wong said...

Nice hong bao packages. Happy Chinese New Year to you too!

Anonymous said...

Thank you thank you thank you!!!! :)

and it's my eldest son's "year" :) He's oh so excited.

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