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Exploring the Meaning Behind Common Chinese New Year Food Traditions: Symbolism and Significance

By KOH XIN JIE RAIYI on 19/01/2023

Exploring the Meaning Behind Common Chinese New Year Food Traditions: Symbolism and Significance

(Source: Shisen Hanten)

The Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is a time for our families to come together and celebrate the start of a new lunar year. One of the most critical aspects of the holiday is the food, as it plays a significant role in our traditional celebrations.

In this blog, we will showcase the most iconic foods of the Chinese New Year.

First on the list is dumplings (饺子), a small, crescent-shaped pocket of dough filled with a variety of savory ingredients such as meat and vegetables. The shape of dumplings is also said to resemble ancient Chinese gold ingots, symbolizing wealth and prosperity for the coming year. Dumplings are traditionally eaten on New Year’s Eve and the 5th day of the Lunar New Year, known as “破五”. This custom is called “breaking the fifth” where the taboos for the new year no longer exist and people celebrate by eating dumplings.

Longevity noodle (长寿面), is also a traditional Chinese New Year food. They symbolize longevity and good luck because of their length, and it is believed that the longer the noodle, the longer the life. Longevity noodles’ length is usually served uncut and enjoyed with a meat-based sauce.

Fish is also a symbolic ingredient during the Chinese New Year. It is often served whole and steamed. The Chinese word for fish, “鱼,” sounds similar to the word for “abundance” or “surplus,” making it a symbol of good luck and prosperity. You can often hear them in the common Chinese New Year greeting like “ 年年有鱼“, which meant to bless the recipient with abundance and luck year after year. It’s also a common practice to use the leftovers to make a fish porridge on New Year’s Day, which is believed to bring even more good luck.

Another food of significance for the Chinese New Year is glutinous rice cakes (年糕). These sweet cakes are made from glutinous rice flour and are believed to bring good luck because of the Chinese word “年” which means both “year” and “sticky.” Eating glutinous rice cake is also said to bring prosperity and advancement in one’s career.

Lastly, Chinese New Year is not complete without tangerines (橘子), which are symbols of wealth and good luck. The round shape of the fruit represents completeness and resembles the shape of the sun, while the bright orange color is associated with wealth and success. These fruits are often displayed in bowls or given as gifts during visits, as their bright color and sweet aroma are said to bring happiness and good fortune.

Food plays a significant role in the Chinese New Year celebrations, with each dish having a special meaning and symbolism. From dumplings to noodles, fishes to rice cakes, and tangerines, these traditional foods all represent different aspects of prosperity, good luck, and longevity, which are all wishes for the coming year. The Chinese New Year is a time to gather with loved ones, enjoy delicious food, and welcome a new year filled with hope and promise.

The Prep Junior team wishes all of our valued users a prosperous and joyful Chinese New Year! May the Year of the Rabbit bring you good luck and success in all your endeavors!

Here are some Chinese New Year phrases for this upcoming New Year visit.
兔年兴旺 — Wishing you a prosperous year of the Rabbit.
宏“兔”大志 — Wishing you a better future.
兔年吉祥 — Wishing you an auspicious year.

About Prep Junior

Prep Junior is an interactive story-based Chinese learning app for young learners. Prep Junior is supported by the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism and Tsinghua X-lab.

Founded by a group of passionate educators, young working professionals, and parents, Prep Junior brings children on a learning adventure around Singapore, with original illustrations of familiar sights and sounds of the island city to ignite the joy of learning Chinese and promote bilingualism.

Prep Junior is available to download now on Apple App Store and Google Play at this link