Heralding the start of the Year of the Ox, Chinese New Year falls on February 12, and is China’s most important holiday.
Festivities may be scaled back this year due to coronavirus restrictions, but you can still get involved in the event, also known as the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, by putting up decorations and enjoying tasty traditional dishes.
Here’s what to eat, drink and do, to celebrate Chinese New Year 2021.
Usually, a big family feast is central to Chinese New Year. While large gatherings may not be on the cards, there’s no reason not to indulge in some tasty Chinese cuisine to mark the occasion.
Much like Christmas, certain foods are associated with the holiday and have symbolic meanings, but traditions vary from place to place.
On the whole, the Lunar New Year spread is meant to reflect the abundance you’ve enjoyed throughout the year, and hope to carry through to the new year.
That means a varied selection, with whole fish and chickens often served to denote unity. Dumplings are essential, the little filled parcels representing gold ingots. Spring rolls are also said to symbolise gold bars, while long noodles equate to long life.
Desserts are equally as important. Nian gao is a kind of sweet, sticky cake made from glutinous rice flour that has an auspicious sounding name in Chinese. Tang yuan, also made from rice flour, are balls with sweet fillings like red bean or peanut.
You’ll also often see tangerines and oranges on the Chinese New Year table. Served at the end of the meal, the fruits are lucky because their name in Cantonese sounds the same as a word for ‘good fortune’.
Chinese New Year tipples or nianjiu (translated as ‘year alcohol’) vary widely. One popular option is baiju, a clear liquor made from sorghum or other grains. With a strong, pungent flavour and high ABV, this spirit may not be for everyone.
Rice wine is another alternative, but these days many families choose to sip red or white wine, or even beer, so why not crack open a bottle of Tsingtao to go with your dumplings? The main thing is to ring in the New Year by raising a glass of the ‘year alcohol’ of your choice.
For a non-alcoholic option, you could bring some of that citrus fruit good fortune to the table, with an orange juice-based mocktail.
Red paper lanterns are the most important Chinese New Year decorations. Whether it’s a big, fringed lantern or a string of mini versions, these brightly-coloured displays are said to ward off bad luck.
You’ll also see Spring Festival paper ‘couplets’, with new year greetings written on them. Feeling creative? You could try your hand at Chinese calligraphy by making your own with red paper and black ink or paint.
This year, ox decorations will also be popular, with ox shaped lanterns, hanging ornaments and paper cuttings.