As a kid, I didn’t quite understand many of the traditions that my family followed. My parents would say do this; and me not being all that curious at the time, would simple do. Fast forward to…well, I won’t say how many years, but fast forward to today. I am a little wiser (hopefully), a little more curious and we are still practicing many of those traditions (some we have tweaked).

My family’s Chinese New Year traditions start long before Chinese New Year actually rolls around. It starts with… This has been tweaked. It starts with the cleaning of the entire house…literally. This traditionally has meant inside and out, from the roof to the basement, and everything in between. All the chores, all the cleaning, all the preparation must be completed before Chinese New Year. You can probably understand why this has been tweaked over the years.

Another very important, yet also tweaked tradition in my family, are the celebratory dinners. We have two. One, to celebrate the “end of a year”. The other, to celebrate the “start of a new year”. The end-of-year dinner is a lot like Thanksgiving. We give thanks for what we have, the people in our lives, and generally being grateful. The new year dinner is a celebration of what is to come, who we are to meet, experiences that we will have. Traditionally, the dinners have been close to the end of one year and the start of another, but due to scheduling conflicts, traveling, everyone convening, marriages, births, etc., the dinners are now within two weeks prior to the end of the year and within two weeks after of the start of a new year.

It is customary in my family to buy an entirely “new outfit” for Chinese New Year, head to toe. The new represents new opportunities, new starts, new relationships, new partnerships, new etc. (I haven’t practiced this in years.) On the flip side of buying a new outfit for Chinese New Year is that we are NOT allowed to buy shoes for one month after Chinese New Year. Shoes or “needing” new shoes in the beginning of a year signifies an expectation of a bumpy year. (This, I follow!)

On the day of Chinese New Year, we have two traditions that we follow. The first is upon waking up, after brushing our teeth, and getting ready, the first morsel or the first piece of food that goes into our mouth is something sweet. This can be a piece of candy, a piece of chocolate, or one of the many sweets that are specifically made for Chinese New Year. Eating something sweet represents welcoming sweet things into our lives. The second tradition is commonly associated with Chinese New Year and that is the gifting and receiving of red envelopes. In my family, only married couples give red envelopes, but everybody can receive. 

There are a couple of things to remember when gifting red envelopes. The sum of the money inside the envelope should not end with a “four” (such as $14, $24, $34, etc.) The word “four” in Chinese sounds very similar to the word for “death”. Eight on the other hand is very auspicious.

One last tradition that some Westerners might be aware of is the placement of tangerines around the home and in cars. The world “tangerine” in Chinese sounds very similar to the word for “gold”. Symbolically, placing tangerines in the home is inviting gold or prosperity or wealth in. When choosing a tangerine or tangerines, it is important to choose ones with their leaves still on 

As you can probably tell, the Chinese culture is rich with symbolism. Mixing the practical and mundane with the right intentions can transform something ordinary to something extr

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