How to Throw a Chinese New Year Party
The Chinese New Year is China's most important holiday, but it's also a super fun excuse for throwing a big, colorful, boisterous bash that's steeped in symbol and tradition.
Chinese New Year 101
Chinese New Year began as a way of bringing the family together to honor household deities. In the first half of the 20th century, China adopted the Gregorian calendar, including Jan. 1 as the first day of the calendar year, but Chinese New Year (or Spring Festival, as it has come to be called) remains China’s most important holiday. Its focus has shifted beyond the household and into the community. So, how about we throw a party!
Psst. Check out these Chinese takeout fake-out recipes.
Sweep away the bad luck
Clean your home before the start of the Chinese New Year—as is traditionally done to sweep away bad luck from the current year. Then, when guests arrive, have them remove their shoes at the door to encourage a clean and smooth transition into the new year.
Not a bad way to get started on your spring cleaning checklist, eh?
Decorate with the color red
One Chinese New Year custom is to hang red paper decorations in windows and elsewhere. It is believed that this tradition derives from an ancient legend involving a beast called Nian (the name is a Chinese word for “year”), who was known to be terrified of the color red.
Red also symbolizes power, happiness and vitality, so you’ll want to use red wherever you can in your decor. For example, string up red paper lanterns, or place pretty red flowers in vases all around the room. Red velvet cake, anyone?
But be sure to add gold highlights
Although traditional Chinese New Year decor is red, it is accented with gold. Gold represents wealth, good fortune and prosperity.
It is also a new year tradition to write messages wishing good luck, good fortune, wealth, prosperity and longevity and to place those messages where people will find them. For an added touch, write the messages in gold ink on red paper. You can even make the invitations red with gold writing.
Listen to the signs
Chinese tradition holds that every new year is imbued with the characteristics of one of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. It’s also a tradition to decorate the home with images of the incoming zodiac animal. This coming year is the year of the pig, so your party decor should include at least a few pig figurines and photos.
The dragon is another popular symbol for Chinese New Year—symbolizing strength, goodness and good luck as well as supernatural forces—so you’ll want to include dragons in the party decorations. For example, you can stretch a long red dragon garland along the ceiling or a wall.
Plan a gift exchange
Another Chinese New Year tradition is the exchanging of gifts in a very specific way: small red envelopes filled with “lucky money.” The envelopes symbolize the giving of good fortune.
You could provide envelopes for guests to give to one another, or you can give them out yourself. If you don’t love the idea of lucky-money envelopes, give out little red goody bags instead (and fill them with homemade candy for a sweet year!).
Serve traditional foods
Historically, the Chinese New Year celebration would last for 15 days, and certain foods would be eaten at certain days and times. For example, in the first five days of the new year, people ate long noodles (symbolizing long life). On the 15th day, people ate dumplings shaped like the full moon (symbolizing family and perfection). Invoke these traditions at your own party by serving Chicken Stir-Fry with Noodles and Asian Chicken Dumplings.
Don’t forget dessert
For dessert, be sure to incorporate oranges and tangerines, which represent wealth, luck and happiness. (Learn how to pick ripe oranges every time.) And don’t forget the fortune cookies! Or, at minimum, consider whipping up a batch of Chinese Almond Cookies.
It’s been said that no Chinese New Year celebration is truly complete without fireworks—because the terrifying beast Nian is terrified of the fireworks. Also, the noise wakes up a magical dragon that will fly across the sky to bring spring rain for abundant crops. If you do decide to go with the fireworks tradition, please be sure to hire a trained professional to get it off the ground, so to speak, safely.
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