Lai-See Envelopes: (Also called Hong-Bao) Money is placed in red envelopes and given to children and young adults during the Chinese New Years. The red color of the envelope symbolizes good luck and is supposed to ward off evil spirits. It is said that in China, during the Qing Dynasty, the elderly would thread coins with a red string. The money was called “ysuì qián”, meaning “money warding off evil spirits”, and was believed to protect the elderly from sickness and death. Red envelopes replaced the “ysuì qián” when printing presses became more common.
Lucky Character: The single word “FOOK”, or fortune, is often displayed in many homes and stores and are frequently found written by brush on a diamond-shaped piece of red paper. This is supposed to be a lucky Chinese New Year symbol. Though Fook (Fu in Mandarin) is widely used to refer to wealth and good fortune, it also includes many other things such as career, health, love, children, etc. In Chinese, the word for “upside down” (dou, or dao in Mandarin) is a homonym with the word “arrives”. Therefore the Fook character is often displayed upside down, together meaning, “good fortune arrives”.
Firecrackers: Firecrackers are a common tradition during the Chinese New Years. One popular belief behind the ritual is that the noise will awaken the dragon to fly across the sky and bring the spring rain for crops. Another belief is that the exploding noise of the firecrackers will scare away all evil spirits and misfortunes, preventing them from coming into the New Year. In ancient times they were lit to scare away the beast called Nin (Nian in Mandarin) who supposedly ate people. Thus, “guo nin”, which now means to pass through the new year, originally meant to “survive the beast”.
Flowers: The Plum Blossom symbol stands for courage and hope. The Water Narcissus symbol signifies good luck and fortune. If the white flowers blossom on the day of the New Year, it is believed to indicate good fortune for the ensuing twelve months. The Peony is said to be a symbol of wealth.
Spring Couplets: Spring couplets are traditionally written with black ink on red paper. These ornaments are hung in storefronts in the month before the Chinese New Year’s Day, and often stay up for two months. They express best wishes and fortune for the coming year. The message of the Spring Couplet can vary from household to household. A store would generally use couplets that make references to their line of trade. For example, couplets that say “Happy New Year” and “Continuing Advancement in Education” are appropriate for a school.
Tangerines, Oranges, Pomelos: Tangerines and oranges are frequently displayed in homes and stores during the time of Chinese New Years as a symbol of good luck, and oranges are symbolic of wealth. These symbols are used due to their phonetic similarities in the Chinese language, as the word for tangerine having the same sound as “luck” in Chinese, and the word for orange having the same sound as “wealth”. Pomelos are large pear-shaped grapefruits and displayed for the same reasons.
Tray of Togetherness: Many families keep a tray full of dried fruits, sweets, and candies to welcome guests and relatives. This tray is called a chuen-hop, or “tray of togetherness” and is traditionally made up of eight compartments. Each compartment is filled with a different edible snacks and each food item holds a different meaning to the New Year. They are often displayed as offerings to the mythological Chinese gods, such as the Kitchen god or the Jade Emperor of the Chinese Zodiac legend. Common items include candy melon, coconut, longan, lotus seeds, lychee nut, peanuts, red melon seed, watermelon seed, and many other assortments.
The Bat: According to Chinese folklore, Zhong Kui is the god that drives away evil, captures demons, and brings good luck and happiness. Zhong Kui is often depicted being led by a bat. In such pictures, he wields a sword as a little bat flies above him, thus indicating the full extent of his powers. Another design featuring red bats is called “limitless happiness,” as in the color red in Chinese is homonymous with the character hong, which means great and grand. Bats bring good luck and are often combined with the character for longevity (sau, or shou in Mandarin). The Chinese word for bat is a homonym for good fortune (Fook).
Festival of Lanterns: The last day of the New Year is known as the Festival of Lanterns. All types of lanterns are lit throughout the streets and poems and riddles are often written for entertainment. There are also paper lanterns on wheels created in the form of either a rabbit or the animal of the year (Tiger for 2010). The rabbit lantern stems from a Chinese myth about a female goddess named “Chang E” who jumped onto the moon and brought a rabbit with her to keep her company. It is said that if your heart is pure enough, you can see the goddess Chang E and her rabbit on the moon on this day.
Dragon: In Western culture Dragons are usually portrayed as frightful, malevolent and often the final obstacle for a hero to slay. However, in Chinese culture the dragon is highly respected for its supernatural power, goodness, and vigilance and is viewed more as a mysterious ally rather than a foe. As shown in the astrological chart, Dragons are known for their nobility and good hearts. Some say firecrackers are used to keep the dragon awake during the Chinese New Years celebrations because they are said to bring luck and prosperity to the community.
Lion Dance: This festive dance originated in China nearly a thousand years ago and is regarded as a guardian creature for good luck and blessings. The most common mythological tale associated with the Chinese Lion Dance is the story of the monster Nian, who terrorized villages by eating livestock, crops, and even villagers themselves on the first day of Chinese New Years. After witnessing the horrors, a Buddhist monk instructed the villagers to create a monster of their own to scare away Nian the following year. Combined with firecrackers, the accompanying loud music, and red flags, Nian is said to have been scared away each time the dance is performed.