Written by Becky Liu, a Nomad graphic designer since 2019. Becky is from Foshan, China and received her masters degree in graphic design at Academy of Art University in San Francisco before joining the Nomad team in Santa Barbara, CA.
Growing up in Foshon in Southern China, my family celebrated many southern Asian traditions, under the influence of HongKong and Guangzhou. Similar to how Thanksgiving dinner is made, every family has their unique customs and recipes that make the food and the holiday truly their own. Since China is such a large and diverse country, the Chinese people have many different traditions for Lunar New Year. However, this is a glimpse into my experiences and family's traditions during the Spring Festival.
年廿三 - The Lunar New Year traditions start in the Final month of the Lunar calendar. The 23rd day of the final month is called the Kitchen God Festival, which is the time to worship the Kitchen God. We believe that he manages fire, the kitchen for the family, and records the families’ behavior. We worship the Kitchen God hoping he will bless the family to stay safe from fire and reward us for our good behavior.
年廿四 - On the 24th day of the final month of the year, we make deep-fried food, which is one of children’s favorite days during the Lunar New Year Celebration. We start the day off making sesame balls and Yau gok. We say, “Sesame balls roll, gold comes on the road,” and, “Yau gok is crooked, money is earned.” These golden deep-fried foods contain the wishes that the family will stay happy and wealthy for the next year. For me and for many other kids, it is a great excuse to get satisfying deep-fried food that our parents usually don’t make throughout the year.
年廿八 - The 28th day of the last month the Lunar Year is a big house cleaning day! It is important to sweep all the bad luck out of the house, in hopes of keeping the rooms clean and neat to bring in the new year’s good luck. To finish the day people heat pomelo leaves in water to take a shower. I know it might sound weird, but pomelo leaves are believed to ward off bad luck and evil influence while invoking blessings.
年廿八 到 年三十 - Starting on the 28th, a special local fair opens for three days and closes before New Year’s eve. It is the New Year Flower Fair. The whole district is decorated as a pedestrian mall and hundreds of vendors sell flowers, fruits, and New Year's goods. Flowers are one of the most important decorations used during the Spring Festival; they are the dominant theme of the whole fair. Visitors see a wide variety of flowers there as well as other new year decorations.
Specific flowers and plants are important symbols during the Lunar New Year. For example, the peach blossom branch is the symbol of single young people, as it is thought to bring luck in having romantic encounters. Chrysanthemums represent longevity and are a fit for families with elderly people. Calamansi is always one of the most popular choices, for the reason that it shares the same pronunciation as “propitious.” Orchids, which symbolize elegance, are high-end choices. And the plum blossom branch, which symbolizes strength and perseverance is also one of the top picks.
Besides flowers, the Chinese will also decorate their houses with Spring Festival couplets or flags in the “Fu” character. If you have relatives or friends that are skilled in Chinese Calligraphy, you will often use flags they’ve created.. If not, you can purchase the decorations in the Flower Fair or local couplets stores.
年三十晚 - Reunion dinner, which is also called the New Year’s Eve dinner, is the biggest family party of the year. Family members will cook their signature dishes and some symbolic “lucky” dishes. Good food is the way that Chinese people express their love to their families.
Say “San Nin Faai Lok,” which means Happy New Year in Cantonese, when the clock strikes midnight! It is important to say it to your family at the very beginning of the New Year.
正月初一 - The spring festival greeting begins on first day of the new year. On this day it is important to wear new clothes, carry a little red bag, recite New Year greetings (like Gong Hei Fat Choy), and get ready to receive red packets! As a child, this is THE HAPPIEST time of the year.
正月初一 到 正月初二 - According to the tradition, people visit their father’s side of the family on the very first day of the new year and visit their mother’s side on the second day of the new year. In the present day, the Chinese have smaller families than before, and as a result many people don’t follow this tradition any longer. Instead, they bring both sides of the family together to enjoy the New Year as a big family.
正月初五 - The 5th day of the Lunar New Year is commonly known as the Festival of Po Wu, or the festival of breaking taboos. This festival is a chance for people to return to normal after strictly following the taboos for the first four days of the new year. They do this to hold onto good wishes and get rid of bad luck. Also, the majority of stores reopen for business to celebrate the birthday of the God of Fortune. People also celebrate by lighting firecrackers in the attempt to ensure the favor of the God of Fortune.
正月初七 - Renri is the 7th day of the New Year. It is the day that human beings were created, according to the Chinese customs. This is the reason some Chinese people say they have three birthdays during the year. We celebrate Renri, as well as our birthday in the lunar calendar and in the solar calendar.
正月十五 - We consider the Lantern Festival to be the final day of traditional Chinese New Year celebrations. It is the night of the first full moon in the New Year and symbolizes family reunion. Tangyuan is the perfect food to celebrate this day. It is a soft and chewy rice ball with a sweet filling inside, I would say it is the best dessert ever! Cities are decorated with red lanterns for the festival. People will set off fireworks at night, carry lanterns, and solve riddles on the lanterns. Last but not least, young people will make wishes in hopes of finding love.
A journey through the Spring Festival is long and filled with lots of wishes and taboos. It does sound complicated, but the overall meaning is very simple and pure: bidding farewell to the old year and looking forward to the new year.
Best wishes to you and to the world.
Happy New Year! Happy Niu Year! 新年快乐!