January 25, 2019
The Lunar New Year is fast approaching! The Lunar New Year falls on a different date in late January or early February each year, according to the traditional Chinese calendar based on the movements of the moon. It’s a BIG deal in Asia and celebrations can often stretch out for up to two weeks!
Did you know that while the Lunar New Year originated in China (hence it’s common name, the Chinese New Year), it is celebrated in many Asian countries, such as Vietnam (where it is called Tet) and South Korea (where it is known as Seollal)? Celebrations across the continent have a lot in common, often centered around honoring ancestors and sharing well-wishing gifts with loved ones, but every country has its own distinct traditions, rituals, and, of course, FOOD to ring in the new year.
Here’s how to wish your friends and family good luck and fortune during the Lunar New Year, no matter where in Asia you’re celebrating:
Baby bok choy represents a few things. It can symbolize wealth and luck for the year as well as good fortune for the future. This small, green leafy vegetable can also represent longevity of life, especially for parents and elders. Baby bok choy can be found in stir fries and other sauce-forward dishes during this special time of year.
In Vietnam, banana leaves are used to wrap glutinous rice, mung beans, and pork into the traditional Vietnamese New Year dish bánh tét (sticky rice cake). Making them is a labor-intensive process, but the whole family will partake to help lighten the load.
Oranges are an intergal part of the five-fruit tray during Vietnam's Tet celebrations. The five-fruit tray is placed on family altars to show respect, and, alongside oranges, typically includes pomelos, kumquats, persimmons, and green bananas.
The daikon radish represents good fortune for the new year in both China and Korea. It can be found in numerous holiday recipes, such as pot roasts, salads, or in the traditional Chinese New Year dish, Turnip Cakes, which are actually made with daikon, not turnip!
On the Chinese “Tray of Togetherness”, there are three to nine spaces for candy, fruits, and other sweet treats, as well as nuts or seeds. This tray symbolizes a happy and healthy beginning for the Chinese New Year and is often given as a house warming gift to the host of a new years’ get-together. Often, the treats used are symbolic themselves, including special “fortune candies,” and colorful dried fruits that symbolize prosperity and fortune, like apricots, mango, and persimmon.
Ginger symbolizes good health and longevity, and can be found in traditional Korean New Year beverages like su-jeong-gwa, and in desserts like taraegwa. Ginger is also often candied and included in the “Tray of Togetherness”.
One of the most popular gifts to give during the Korean Lunar New Year is a kumquat tree. Symbolizing good luck and prosperity, these small orange fruits are given by celebrants to their host and displayed for all visitors to see. They're also typically included on the Vietnamese five-fruit tray.
In China, Minneola tangerines are thought to symbolize luck during the Lunar New Year. Plus, their vibrant orange peels are associated with happiness and good fortune. They’re often placed around the home, as well as given as gifts in decorative bags.
Many traditional New Years’ dishes, like Kimchi, use Napa cabbage to secure the eater a new year of prosperity and wealth.
Persimmons are a symbol of joy in Korea, and their popularity continues through the New Year celebration. They are used for decoration and often given as gifts.
These large citrus fruits play a BIG role in the Chinese New Year. Pomelos symbolize abundance, prosperity, and family unity. You’ll find them on shrines across the country, and, of course, on tables too.
The Chinese word for mandarin – “kam” – sounds similar to the word for “gold,” and therefore mandarins are believed to symbolize prosperity. Aside from eating mandarins, or decorating the home with small mandarin trees, they’re also often given as a gift alongside the red packets of money given to relatives and loved ones (also known as lai see). In China, mandarins with the stems and leaves still intact are preferred for wishing friends and family a long, fertile life.
Lunar New Year, Chinese New Year, Citrus, Dried Fruit, Mandarins, Tray of Togetherness, China, Vietnam, South Korea