How Lunar New Year Works

By: John Kelly  | 

Chinese New Year Foods

Chinese family eating
A family sits down to dinner to celebrate the Lunar New Year. Many dishes have to be prepared ahead of time, since no cooking takes place during the first five days of the holiday. Image Source/Getty Images

While folks in the West traditionally welcome the New Year by drinking champagne and maybe eating black-eyed peas and greens for luck and wealth, the Chinese emphasize feasting and mark New Year's Eve with a large dinner, which typically includes items like dumplings, prawns, dried oysters and other types of seafood. This was traditionally a home-cooked meal, but today more families celebrate at restaurants, which is why New Year's Eve reservations at good restaurants in China can be hard to come by. Families might also hire a professional chef to cook their meal at home [source:].

Many of the foods associated with New Year have symbolic meaning attached to them. For example, oranges, melons and kumquats are popular because their gold color suggests wealth. Dumplings are fashioned to resemble gold and silver ingots and served in soup as symbols of riches. Hard-boiled eggs, cellophane noodles, fish and chicken are all associated with prosperity. Long noodles represent longevity, and the Chinese eat them whole -- it's said that cutting them up in the bowl might lead to a short life. Since red is also so much associated with the New Year, it also features heavily in celebratory dishes. Red dates, red-dyed pumpkin seeds and pomegranates often appear on Chinese tables during this time of year.


On New Year's Day, some families eat a vegetarian meal in order to pay respect to the Buddhist precept of not killing animals and to gain longevity. One popular meat-free dish is jai, a stew that includes ginkgo nuts, black moss, bean curd, bamboo shoots, noodles and scallions, all foods associated with good luck. For dessert, oranges and Chinese New Year cake appear [source: Family Culture].

On the seventh day of the New Year, the Universal Birthday, a colorful, tossed raw fish salad serves as a symbol of longevity and good luck. On the 13th, a simple cleansing meal of rice and greens is advised to take a break from all the feasting. For Lantern Festival at the end of the New Year celebration period, the Chinese eat a soup containing balls of glutinous rice. These dumplings represent the full moon and perfection and like many other New Year foods, are intended to bring good luck. Popular snacks throughout the period include peanuts and mandarin oranges. A circular tray containing sweets and nuts, known as the "Tray of Togetherness," is also a favorite [source:].

There are many other traditional ways to celebrate Chinese New Year. Read on to find out about the most popular ones.