Every new year gives us a chance to improve on the last. For the Chinese, it’s even more significant to check off a list of traditions in order to make sure that our luck will stick for the rest of the year and we haven’t even begun discussing how this year is more important than most since it’s the Year of the Metal Rat.
Not only does the year of the rat mark the start of a new cycle signifying new beginnings and renewals, but the animal also represents intelligence, cleverness, and resourcefulness, while the element metal comes from the earth with traits relating to ambition, resourcefulness and inner strength. The combination leads us to one of the luckiest years in a long time, so it’s best to at least try to bring in more luck!
1. Kung Hei Fat Choi or Gong Xi Fa Cai?
One of the first things you need to have down is knowing how to greet, and there’s general confusion as to which phrase you should use. Just to clarify, the phrase “Kung Hei Fat Choi” is Cantonese (Hong Kong), “Gong Xi Fa Cai” is Mandarin (China), and “Kiong Hee Huat Tsai” is Fookien, the language of the local Chinese community. It’s fine to use any, just don’t mix the phrases up with each other and it’s fine to abundantly use the phrase too since it means “may you attain greater wealth.”
2. Display the faith/fortune character upside down (福)
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There are many myths that explain this tradition, but the basic gist is that the Chinese character for faith (福, no direct translation, so it can also mean fortune or good luck) flipped upside down looks a like a homonym for the word “arrive,” making it mean “fortune will arrive.”
3. Wear red
The color red has deep ties to Chinese culture. For one, it’s basically the national color and it represents happiness, wealth, good fortune, and energy. People wear red for birthdays, weddings, and of course, the new year among many other celebrations but it’s absolutely prohibited at any sorrowful occasions like funerals.
4. Red envelopes (angpao)
Red’s association with wealth is also the reason why our precious angpaos are the color that they are. It’s a tradition (mostly among parents and elders) to give out red envelopes filled with money to bring the giver AND the receiver good luck, so be generous!
There are two parts to this: for one, you get to celebrate with a bang! And two, you get to drive the bad spirits away. The new year is a prime time to make noise and celebrate! If you’re not too keen on fireworks, you can always make noise at home with anything you can find.
6. Don’t discard anything on the day of
Getting rid of anything in the new year is bad luck because it’s like the act of pushing something away (luck, specifically). This is especially forbidden when it comes to sweeping and also covers things like cutting your hair (fun fact: my dad got mad at my sister for doing this once) or cleaning out shelves. There is a right time and place to clean, however, and that is:
7. Do all your cleaning before
Do all the discarding a few days prior, which symbolizes shedding any bad luck we might have accumulated from the year.
The beloved treat is a signature Lunar New Year food because of its Chinese name which translates to “aim higher.” The snack’s sticky properties are also a metaphor for luck attaching itself to a person, so have a go at it!
9. Display 12 different round fruits
Feng shui assigned 12 different kinds of round fruit with corresponding meanings, with pineapple being the luckiest since it translates to “fortune comes.” If you can’t find 12 different round fruits then any round fruit will do as long as it’s 12 overall.
10. Lay down a feast
Here’s something a bit more traditional: once you arrange your feast, leave it be and light up the incense. You offer the food for the spirits to consume and leave it there for a while as they proceed to feast on it. And when the clock strikes midnight, feel free to dine. (Elders would say that the food would taste different since it’s already been eaten by the spirits.)
What should be in the feast, you ask? Fish, most importantly. The Chinese word for “fish” and “surplus” sound the same, which is why it’s such a staple on the dinner table. Another good addition is noodles, which are widely known to symbolize a long life.
Which one of these are you going to try as we enter the Year of the Metal Rat? Let us know in the comments below!
Homestream Image from bady qb on Unsplash