British Columbia

Lunar New Year customs symbolize lucky start to the year

Traditional foods, gift-giving and other customs are a vital part of the Lunar New Year. Chinese food writer Stephanie Yuen explains some of the customs that represent the discarding of the old, and the rebooting of the new.

Chinese food writer Stephanie Yuen says traditions are all part of wishing each other good fortune

Food writer Stephanie Yuen talks about traditional Lunar New Year's snacks and customs. (CBC)

Traditional foods, gift-giving and other customs are a vital part of the Lunar New Year, so as British Columbians celebrate the Year of the Sheep, Chinese food writer Stephanie Yuen explains some of the customs that represent discarding the old, and welcoming the new.

Red Envelopes

Giving "lucky money" to children of friends and families or to employees at work is a common Lunar New Year tradition. Not only does it symbolize the passing on of blessings, it is also seen as a way to teach children how to save their money, said Yuen.

"As a kid growing up, we never got weekly allowance or anything like that — it's just not in the Chinese culture," she told CBC Radio North by Northwest's Sheryl MacKay. "But during Chinese New Year, a lot of your relatives — older ones that are married, for example — they have to give [lucky money] to you."

However, Yuen points out one taboo: "Never put any fake money in [the red envelope]," as fake money is associated with the dead.

Traditional dishes

Chinese families typically prepare a multi-course dinner laden with dishes like whole steamed fish and whole chicken — all of which symbolize good fortune.

"(The word) fish rhymes with … Chinese meaning of 'bounty', 'abundance', 'leftover'." Yuen said. "So always you want that to happen during the new year."

Tray of Togetherness

Offering guests snacks that are laid out on a round, red tray with compartments is also customary. Yuen says treats like mandarin oranges, sugared winter melon, and roasted pumpkin seeds symbolize a sweet and prosperous beginning to the new year.

"Seeds mean growth," she said. "You're going to grow into a better you. Advancement, improvement — all these lovely things."

To hear more about Lunar New Year traditions, click on the audio labelled: The symbolism behind Lunar New Year traditions.


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