You'll know that the party has officially begun when you see people dressed in red and hear fireworks exploding in the street--both intended to scare off a legendary man-eating beast, Nian.
While many cultures around the world celebrate New Year's as a time of renewal, the Lunar New Year means that and much more. It is a time to gather with family, honor ancestors and celebrate with a big banquet that symbolizes prosperity in the New Year.
Most of the dishes served during Lunar New Year (also known as Spring Festival) are symbolic of something positive and hopeful.
- Chicken and fish, for example, symbolize happiness and prosperity--especially when served whole.
- Dishes made with oranges represent wealth and good fortune because they are China's most plentiful fruit.
- Noodles represent longevity: therefore, they should never be cut!
- Duck symbolizes fidelity, while eggs signify fertility.
- Bean curd or tofu, however, is avoided because its white color suggests death and misfortune.
Dishes are also chosen based on homonyms--words that either are spelled the same or sound the same as other words. Fish (yu) is served because it sounds similar to the Chinese word for plenty; whole fish represents abundance. Turnips are cooked because their name (cai tou) also means "good luck."
Another popular Lunar New Year dish is jiaozi, dumplings boiled in water. In some areas of China, coins are placed in the center of jiaozi. Whoever bites into one of these dumplings will have an exceptionally lucky year.
Try some of these lucky Chinese dishes for a prosperous year to come: