Coming from two cultures Portuguese and Chinese, I love the latter best, especially during the Chinese New Year activities.
Growing up in Macau, gave me a great appreciation of the Chinese culture and its rituals and even today after so many years here in Australia I still follow it and instil it in my kids of mixed heritage. They are happy to follow it as it means double dipping in pressies. Straight after Christmas celebrations they get to celebrate the Chinese New Year receiving Lai See (red packets filled with money).
The ritual usual starts a few days prior to the Chinese New Year with the complete decluttering and cleaning of the house as Chinese New Year celebration mean the coming of Spring – hence spring cleaning.
Then celebrations usually start with a family dinner gathering at home one or two days before the day of Chinese New Year. All dishes served are symbolic foods. Every single dish brought to the table has a meaning in Chinese: starting with spring rolls – honouring the season of spring and resembling golden bars; Fish (whole with head and tail intact) meaning abundance as it comes from a proverb wishing someone “thousands of abundant accomplishments”; dumplings as they symbolise gold or silver ingots as well as togetherness; vegetarian dish called ‘Lo Hon Jai’ which is a mixture of many dried vegetables and fungus as these symbolise prosperity; it is followed with other greens as in Chinese vegetables sounds like prosperity; chicken for wholeness and abundance; duck as it symbolises fidelity; sweet and sour pork meaning many grandchildren; longevity noodles – the noodles are left long and never cut as it symbolises long life; followed by desserts which come in the form of Nian Kou – which is a sticky rice cake made with molasses as this symbolises yearly promotion and continuous growth; fruits like Pomelos as it sounds in Chinese as ‘plenty’ and Mandarin as it sounds like golden ingots and not forgetting all the sweet dumplings symbolising roundness and togetherness.
In Hong Kong and Macau we used to burn Fire Crackers right at midnight to ward off all evil spirits and then stay up late to welcome in the New Year. There are rituals that are followed in celebrating the auspiciousness of the period usually lasting up to 15 days with each day doing different things. Number one rule is ‘No cleaning’ or any sight of a broom as sweeping on the first day means sweeping away all your fortune and prosperity. Always have ready ‘Red packets’ ready to give away to children as giving away money means that fortune will be returned twofold. They are available these days through the internet.
Wearing new clothes is also auspicious and red is also very auspicious as it is supposed to ward off evil spirits. Other symbolic ‘no nos’ are avoiding negative words and actions, having an empty rice bin, no cutting with knives and scissors especially the first few days, hence always cut your hair before the New Year.