As soon as I put my Christmas decorations away, it’s time to start getting ready for the next big holiday in my family—Chinese New Year. Preparations focus on getting a fresh start and sweeping away any bad luck that’s lying around. You’re supposed to clean up your house, get your hair cut and pay off any outstanding debts (all good things to do after the Christmas craziness).
And every year, as part of our family’s celebration, we host a big dinner for our friends and their kids. Here’s how you can plan a Chinese New Year celebration of your own, to help you ring in the new with your best foot forward.
Deck your halls in red and gold. Red is the color of joy and good luck in China, and gold symbolizes wealth—both things you’re trying to usher in during the new year. The Chinese often post beautiful calligraphy of good luck symbols drawn on red paper to help draw good luck into their house—you can find some online to print or copy. You can pull out the red dishes and red linens from the holidays to bring that joyful color into your table setting. My go-to centerpiece is a cinch to pull together: I fill a red bowl with mandarin oranges, which are considered “golden” in Chinese, and represent good fortune (They also make a simple dessert after the big meal). Or you could fill a vase with plum branches or other blossoming branches, which help symbolize the fresh start that comes with the new year.
Plan your menu. Food is a big part of the celebration, and there are special dishes that should be on any Chinese New Year menu. They’re dishes that have come to symbolize good fortune, and eating them in the New Year is thought to bring you good luck. Luckily for you, you don’t have to slave away in the kitchen for hours on most of these dishes—for the most part, they’re pretty simple to prepare (or very easy to call in from your local Chinese takeout, if you’d rather get it from the pros).
Start off the meal with dumplings, steamed or fried. Dumplings resemble money, so eating them is thought to improve your chances of increasing your wealth.
The main course should feature a few key dishes (along with any favorites you love). Lo mein (long noodles) are usually served, because the long noodles symbolize a long life (Just be sure you don’t cut up the noodles—that’s akin to cutting someone’s life short!). Buddha’s Delight, a vegetarian dish, is often served on Chinese New Year’s Eve. Some of the vegetables in it are thought to improve your prosperity. Some Chinese serve whole fish, because the word for fish in Chinese, yu, is a homophone for the word that means “surplus.”
For dessert, the tangerines or kumquats symbolize prosperity. There’s also a dense, super-sweet rice cake, called nian gao, that is meant to increase your prosperity as well.
Share the wealth. One of the big parts of Chinese New Year is sharing hong bao (red envelopes) with your children. The red envelopes are traditionally filled with money—but at our parties, we usually offer gold-foil chocolate coins instead (they’re just as popular!).
Make some noise. Firecrackers and drums have been a big part of Chinese New Year celebrations—the noise was once thought to scare away evil spirits. But now, they just add a festive vibe to your celebration. If firecrackers are illegal in your state, you can always let your kids loose with drums (or even pots and pans) for a noisy, fun-filled parade.
Have some fun. I usually try to set up some cool activities for the kids. In the past we’ve colored decorations on paper fans, built dragon puppets with paper cutout heads and popsicle sticks strung together with ribbon, and run chopstick relays, where teams carefully tried to carry pompoms using a set of chopsticks. You can even let the kids get in on the food prep—my kids have a ball helping to stuff wonton skins with a combo of pork, soy sauce and scallions for divine dumplings. And don’t forget to wish everyone Xin Nian Kuae Le (Shin nee-in kwi la), which means Happy New Year in Chinese!
Do you have ideas for a Chinese New Year Party? Share them below!