Kung Hey Fat Choy: A very prosperous New Year of the Tiger

Posted on: 09 February 2010 by Mark O'haire

Chinese New Year is on the 14 February this year and we’re here to provide you with an expert insight into the tradition, culture and of course, the animal zodiac of the Chinese New Year for 2010.

In the Chinese calendar, 2010 is the Year of the Tiger. People born in these years (1914, 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998 and course 2010) are said to be sensitive, deep thinking, sympathetic and rather short-tempered.

Tiger people cannot make up their minds which can result in poor, hasty and late decisions. They are courageous, powerful and sometimes come into conflict with older people or those in authority. They are most compatible with those born in the years of the Horse, Dragon and Dog.

Famous people born in the Year of the Tiger include Agatha Christie, Beatrix Potter, Buddy Holly, HRH Princess Anne, Karl Marx, Kenneth William, Ludwig van Beethoven, Oscar Wilde, Queen Elizabeth II and Sir David Attenbrough.

About the festival

Chinese New Year is the biggest festival in the Chinese calendar. Also known as the Spring festival, it lasts 15 days, from a date that varies between late January and mid-February because it's based on the lunar calendar. This year celebrations begin on the 14 February.

The festival is steeped in superstition. In China, people spring clean their houses before the celebrations. Then all brooms, brushes, dusters, dust pans and other cleaning equipment should be put away, because sweeping or dusting should not be done on New Year's Day for fear that good fortune will be swept away.

New Year's Eve is also a time to buy new clothes or shoes, have a hair cut, and pay off debts. Nothing should be lent on this day, as anyone who does so will be lending all the year. When tinder and flint were used, no one would lend them on this day or give a light to others.

A meaningful meal

On New Year's Eve, the whole family gets together to enjoy a feast of traditional dishes that symbolise luck and prosperity. These include fish, because the Chinese word sounds like another which means 'to have plenty each year', and dumplings, whose shape is a reminder of golden nuggets and whose name sounds like an old word for money.

Tangerines, lettuce and other foods are also eaten because their names are wealth related. In some areas a communal dish is popular, containing layers of many ingredients.

Sticky rice pudding cakes or turnip cakes are offered to relatives and God, to ensure a sweet life.

Many of the ingredients used for the New Year feast are symbolic to the Chinese, so, if you're planning to celebrate this New Year with some fine Chinese dishes, take note of what the ingredients could mean:

  • Fish (whole) - Togetherness, abundance and good fortune.
  • Chicken - Prosperity, although the chicken must be presented with a head, tail and feet to symbolise completeness.
  • Duck - A harmonious marriage.
  • Prawns - Happiness, liveliness and laughter.
  • Dried Oyster - All things good.
  • Peaches - Immortality.
  • Oranges - Wealth and prosperity.
  • Lotus Seed - A symbol of having many male offspring.
  • Black Moss Seaweed - Wealth.
  • Dried Bean Curd - A symbol of fulfilment of wealth and happiness.
  • Fresh Bean Curd/ Tofu - Not included as it is white and unlucky for New Year as the colour signifies death and misfortune.
  • Noodles should be uncut, as they represent long life.

Welcoming The New Year

The Chinese let off fireworks to send out the old year and welcome in the New Year. On the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, every door in the house, and even windows, has to be open to allow the old year to go out.

Chinese New Year celebrationsPeople decorate their homes with lucky red New Year greetings, and flowers including cherry blossoms, daffodils or silver willow branches, to celebrate new life. A home is thought to be lucky if a plant blooms on New Year's Day, as this foretells the start of a prosperous year.

People receive good luck from the Lion dances that pass by on New Year's Day, with drums, gongs and cymbals to frighten off evil and misfortune.

We are not suppose to wash our hair because it would mean we would have washed away good luck for the New Year.

It is considered unlucky to greet anyone in their bedroom so that is why everyone, even the sick, should get dressed and sit in the living room.

Children receive lucky red pockets full of money. Naughty youngsters are tolerated and not spanked, because if you cry on New Year's Day, you will cry all through the year.

The Day After

After the previous day's feast a lighter vegetarian dish is usually served. People do not use knives or scissors as this may cut off fortune, so they dish up food whole.

Year of the OxFamily and friends visit each other during the festival, and so there are New Year sweets and treats such as sweetened lotus roots and seeds or dried melon seeds, laid on a tray.

The final day of the festival is Lantern Day, on the night of the full moon, when people hang up and carry colourful lanterns decorated with dragons, birds and other creatures. On the dining table will be sweet and sticky rice dumplings filled with sesame or peanut.

Whilst many Chinese people today may not believe in the do's and don'ts, these traditions and customs are still practiced. Most families say that it is these very traditions, whether believed or not, that provide continuity with the past and provide the family with an identity.

New Year principles

The key principle of Chinese New Year is renewal; the chance to start afresh, for reconciliation and reunion. Some of the traditions and rituals of Chinese New Year are:

A clean house – spring cleaning away the bad and unlucky items from last year;

Debt – settle all debts before the year ends;

New clothes – to symbolise a time for change and presenting a good appearance;

Avoid taboo words – words for death, sickness or bad luck must not be spoken;

Red and firecrackers – The colour red signifies good luck and joy and the sound of firecrackers is a sign of life, warding off evil and bad luck. Money in red packets (or 'lai-see') is given to children and those who are not married;

New Year foods – It's not New Year without foods that are symbolic with fortune such as fish (sounds like 'surplus'), seaweed (sounds like 'wealth'), oyster (sounds like 'good business') and New Year cake (sounds like 'a progressive year').

Animal signs – Comprising twelve animals in a rotating cycle, the animal that represents the year in which you were born has a profound influence on your life and personality. The Tiger beholds a tumultuous year, full of risk taking and has to be courageous and determined to accomplish goal.

That's all folks! Kung Hey Fat Choy and...

Don't forget to join in the celebrations with your local Chinese community around the country especially those areas with large Chinese population such as London, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow. The celebrations are either on the Chinese New Year Day (14 February) or the following Sunday.

By Richard Lam

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