Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year Recipe Ideas

A fortnight of feasting, firecrackers, the glow of red lanterns and the banging of drums, Chinese New Year, known by the Chinese as the Spring Festival, is the oldest, longest and most important festival in the Chinese calendar. It’s a time for families to come together to indulge in celebration and look forward to a year of health, wealth and happiness.

Beginning on the first day of the lunar month, in late January or early February, it continues right through to the fifteenth, when the moon is at its brightest, and ends with a spectacular lantern festival featuring dragons parading through the streets, good-luck bringing lion dances, and fireworks.

Celebrated anywhere there is a significant Chinese population, and in Chinatowns all over the world, the origins of the centuries-old festival are, of course, steeped in myth and legend.

One story goes that a mythical lion-like beast, called Nian, would arrive in the village on the first day of the New Year to devour livestock, crops and unlucky villagers. In order to protect themselves, the villagers would pile up food at their front doors, hoping to sate Nian before he began his rampage. One day, the villagers noticed that Nian was scared by the sight of a small child wearing red, and wasn’t especially fond of loud noises either. The next year, they decorated their windows and doors with red scrolls and lanterns and banged pots and pans and let off firecrackers. The Nian was so intimidated; he was never seen in the village again. Henceforth, red became a lucky colour for the Chinese.

There are many traditions associated with Chinese New Year. Before the festival begins, houses are spring-cleaned to sweep away any bad luck that may be lurking and, on New Year’s Eve, all brushes and brooms are hidden away so that the good luck cannot be swept away with the bad. Houses are festooned with paper scrolls featuring good luck phrases, and lights and lanterns are hung. Doors and windows are often painted red as a symbol of good luck. In the days leading up to New Year, people spend money on presents, food, clothes and decorations and will usually have their hair cut. Businesses are supposed to clear their debts and give gifts to business associates and extended family members. Most of us will have received a calendar from our local Chinese takeaway during New Year.

Throughout the New Year festivities, foods such as oranges and tangerines are served because they symbolise good fortune and abundance. It’s also common to put together a ‘Tray of Togetherness’, a tray with 8 compartments, a Chinese lucky number, filled with sweet treats to provide a sweet beginning to the New Year.

On New Year’s Eve, families get together and enjoy a large traditional meal. It varies from region to region but will usually contain filled dumplings which are served just after midnight. A coin is hidden inside one and it is thought to bring good luck to the person who finds it. At midnight, fireworks and firecrackers are let off to scare away evil spirits. Early next morning, children are given red envelopes decorated with gold symbols, containing money or sweets, meant to bring good luck for the forthcoming year. It also a day for visiting elder family members, especially grandparents, to show respect and give thanks.

Chinese New Year ends with the lantern festival on the fifteenth day of celebration. People parade through the streets under the light of the full moon, carrying handmade lanterns, often featuring scenes from history and legend. There is usually a dragon dance to ward off evil – a paper, silk and bamboo dragon, symbolically red, gold and green, is held aloft as people dance around and collect money. The dragon is a benevolent symbol of power and good fortune in Chinese culture, not the fire-breathing stealer of princesses we know in the west.

And finally, everyone wishes each other ‘kung hei fat choi’ – happy New Year!

If you want to celebrate too – well, at least the feasting part, check out some of these delicious recipes on our blog. How does Prawn Dim Sum with Chilli Dipping Sauces grab you? Or how about some Fresh Spring Rolls with Chilli Mint Dip? Maybe Twice-Cooked Pork Belly with a Sticky Chinese Glaze is more your thing? Or will it be our Tom Yum Prawn Noodle Soup that hits the spot? Hungry yet?