Culture
Decoding Chinese New Year
February 4, 2016
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Decoding Chinese New Year - traditions and symbolism

Chinese New Year rituals are thought to have a significant influence on how the year ahead proceeds. Avoid inauspicious pitfalls with these 9 lucky omens! The legend goes that a formidable creature known as the Nian (also the word for year), would annually descend on a mountain village, eating livestock, gobbling up small children and generally terrorising the community. One year an old man stood up to the beast that is described as having the body of a bull and head of a lion. Using vivid red banners, fire and loud noises, he scared the Nian into never returning. Since that time the colour red, firecrackers and noise-making have been an important part of Chinese New Year rites, used to scare away bad vibes and poor fortune. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the legends and symbolism of Chinese New Year (CNY for the initiated). Here are 9 objects for gifting, decorating, eating and celebrating to keep you on lady luck’s good side.

Decoding Chinese New Year | Duende by Madam ZoZo

Fu Xing is one of three star gods that embody important Chinese cultural values. This jolly fellow is the most called upon during CNY festivities as he symbolises blessings and happiness as a result of good fortune. You will recognise him by his distinctively winged hat.

Decoding Chinese New Year | Duende by Madam ZoZo

Many people hope for financial prosperity in the new year. Ancient coins that are round in shape with a square hole in the centre are thought to be lucky. They are often strung together, usually in groups of 3, 100 or 1000 coins.

Decoding Chinese New Year

The Chinese love homonyms, words that sound like each other but have different meanings. The word for “wealth” sounds like the word for “orange/mandarin,” similarly the word for “luck” sounds like the word for “tangerine.” Along with these homonymic associations, the fruits’ golden colour make them ideal gifts for sending wishes of prosperity and good fortune. As a general rule, try to gift items in groupings of 8, which is pronounced like the Mandarin word for “wealth,” and never inauspicious 4 which is pronounced similar to the word for “death.”

Decoding Chinese New Year | Duende by Madam ZoZo

Golden coloured pineapples are another symbol of wealth and good fortune. Pineapple in Hokkien Chinese is “ong lai” translating to “fortune comes.”

Decoding Chinese New Year

Sugary treats should be consumed to ensure a sweet year ahead!

Decoding Chinese New Year

Among these CNY decorations is maize, a symbol of growth.

Decoding Chinese New Year

A common image of star god Fu Xing shows him holding a yuan bao, a gold ingot used as currency in ancient China.

Decoding Chinese New Year

Day 15 of the new year is the Festival of Lanterns, traditionally ending the Spring Festival and Chinese New Year period. The festival was derived from a Buddhist custom approximately 2000 years ago, in which monks lit lanterns in temples to honour Buddha on the 15th day of the first lunar month.

Decoding Chinese New Year

Hong bao are red envelopes containing cash gifts, usually given from older, married couples to young people and singles.

Enjoy the traditions and festivities of welcoming the new lunar year. For more Chinese symbolism – see Fu Lu Shou: Fortune, Prosperity and Longevity.

Peace, love & inspiring travel,

Madam ZoZo

Decoding the traditions and symbols of Chinese New Year
Decoding Chinese New Year - tradtions and symbolism of celebrating the Lunar New Year

About author

Madam ZoZo

Hi! I'm Madam ZoZo, aka Zoë, an Australian designer, creative consultant, blogger and digital nomad. I'm passionate about travel, design, dance and new experiences that fuel my creativity. I strive to travel in a style that is gentle on the earth and that contributes to the communities I visits, even if it is merely to take away a greater understanding of a different culture. Duende by Madam ZoZo, is where I share the stories of my travels and the duende (soul/inspiration) I find along the way.

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There are 5 comments

  • Ella P says:

    I’m learning so much about my own culture, or at least getting a refresher course! Wow, thank you!

    • Madam ZoZo says:

      Thanks for stopping by Duende Ella! I love learning about other cultures and it’s my absolute pleasure to share it here.
      I’m afraid I could only skim the surface of CNY in this post – there’s so much interesting history and symbolism!

  • […] values and new ways to honor and celebrate occassions that you may just take home with you. Chinese New Year (east Asia), Thaipusam (Singapore), Thanksgiving (U.S.A), Rio Carnival (Brazil), and Mardi Gras […]

  • […] I wish you all the blessings, prosperity and longevity the star gods are willing to bestow. I hope you get that career break, bank account expansion, or family addition you are hoping for…and live to a ripe old age to enjoy it! For more Chinese culture and symbolism, click on over to Decoding Chinese New Year. […]

  • […] For more Chinese culture and symbolism, swan on over to Decoding Chinese New Year. […]

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