From dumplings to rice cakes, each region in China has distinct festival foods and customs. WildChina Education has invited our Program Manager, Susan Li, to share how she eats dumplings with her family during the New Year.
This year will be my second year in a row without celebrating Spring Festival with my family back in Inner Mongolia. I miss everything about China, but if it comes down to one thing I miss the most, it would be my mom’s dumplings at Chinese New Year’s Eve and all the traditional activities that surround the dumplings on that festive night.
Eating dumplings at Chinese New Year’s Eve is a tradition. My mom takes it so seriously that she doesn’t allow anyone to get within 6 feet of her kitchen that night. Not that it has anything to do with being possessive or controlling but because there are so many religious and cultural taboos surrounding the dumplings. Therefore, I want to share with you the Li family Chinese New Year dos and don’ts!
Chinese New Year Insights: The Dos and Don’ts They Won’t Tell You
- DO SERVE YOUR FIRST DUMPLING TO THE KITCHEN GOD
We have a picture of the Kitchen God deity hung throughout the year near my family’s stove. The Kitchen God not only watches over the domestic affairs of a family, but he is also a moral force in the lives of all family members. We treat him the most respect. We would serve dumplings to him first before we start eating ourselves and we would also burn spirit money to make him happy. Most of the time, this is the task for children at home, as adults are normally busy with other responsibilities.
2. DO MAKE SURE NOT A SINGLE DUMPLING IS BROKEN
The reason my mom never allows others to help her to make dumplings is simply because she wants to make sure that there won’t be any broken dumplings. For us, dumplings look like gold ingots (元宝), the currency used in ancient times. Complete, beautiful, and yummy dumplings indicate money and good fortune will come to the family in the coming year However, if there are broken dumplings, it shows that money flow in the family will be broken in both “amount” and “quality”.
3. DO WEAR AS MUCH RED AS POSSIBLE
We all know that Chinese people have a fascination with the color red. It symbolizes good luck and good fortune. My family tradition is that we wear red head to toe during the Chinese New Year’s Eve. My mom, as a perfectionist, makes sure we not only have red clothes, but also red socks, slippers, and long john underwear! More red, more luck, more fortune!
- DON’T SWALLOW THE COINS IN THE DUMPLING
As a tradition, we stuff coins in a few special dumplings prior to boiling. The person who bites into the dumplings with the coins is considered to have an extra dose of luck in the new year. However, please do not swallow the coins! You are supposed to bite the coin and then spit it out and to show everybody! I always felt like a superstar when I was the one with the most coins in my dumplings. There’s always a competition between me and my brother, who can eat more dumplings and therefore has a higher chance of getting the auspicious coins!
2. DON’T GO TO BED BEFORE MIDNIGHT
In Northern China, we stay up until at least 12:00 am to go to bed. This tradition comes from a mythical monster “年nian” (“Year” in English) who comes out on New Years’ eve to do bad things. To protect each other, everyone will stay awake until the end of the New Year’s Eve when monster “年” leaves. My family believes in Tibetan Buddhism like most of the families in Inner Mongolia. As a tradition, we would keep all lights on in all rooms for the entire night to scare 年 away in hopes of a long living life.
Hope these tips will prepare you better when spending the Chinese New Year in Northern China. There are definitely many more traditions and history surrounding Chinese Spring Festival.