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Main dishes in the Spring Festival

New Year Cake

As one of the most important aspects of the Spring Festival, food is essential to a healthy, happy new year in Chinese tradition, and many dishes are imbued with auspicious and symbolic meanings either because of the appearance or the pronunciation of its Chinese name.

In Northern China, people usually eat jiaozi (dumplings), which first appeared in China some 1,600 years ago. The Chinese pronunciation of jiaozi means "midnight" or "the end and the beginning of time". Its crescent shape resembles that of ancient gold and silver ingots or a crescent moon which symbolizes the hope for a plentiful year. Sometimes, people stuff jiaozi with sugar for a "sweet" life, and others put one or two coins inside -- if you happen to come across a coin-stuffed jiaozi, you will have good luck.

But southerners like to eat nian gao, or "New Year Cake" -- a sweet sticky brown cake made of rice flour and sugar. In Chinese, gao is a homonym for "high", and nian is "year". Nian gao is a homonym for "higher each year" and symbolizes improvement in life year by year. Their sweetness symbolizes a rich sweet life. Finally, the round shape signifies family reunion.

A symbolic food for the Lantern Festival is small dumpling balls made of glutinous rice flour and filled with sweet stuffing. It is called yuan xiao or tang yuan. Round in shape, they symbolize family unity, completeness and happiness.

Yuan Xiao

Other dim sums like noodles and spring rolls. Noodles stand for a long, happy life; an old superstition says that it's bad luck to cut them. Spring rolls symbolize wealth, because their shape is similar to gold bars.

Fish also plays a large role in festive celebrations. The Chinese word for fish, "yu", sounds like the words for wealth, abundance and happiness. As a result, on New Year's Eve it is customary to serve a fish at the end of the dinner, symbolizing surplus and prosperity in the coming year. The fish is served whole, with head and tail attached, symbolizing a good beginning and ending for the coming year.

Chicken is another main dish during the festival. The Chinese pronunciation for chicken, "ji", is similar to the Chinese word for "good luck". People may have roasted chicken or steamed chicken with different spices, however, it should be served whole, symbolizing family togetherness.

Jiao Zi

The other stewed meat can be pork, mutton or beef, symbolizing wealth and strength. People also eat different vegetables and tofu which will bring harmony and prosperity. Pickles are also popular because people want to keep balance inside their bodies. Too much meat always makes trouble to your stomach; while pickles and vegetables help you avoid sickness.

Tangerines and oranges are the "lucky" fruits and the best presents during the Spring Festival season as the words for tangerines and oranges sound like luck and wealth. And let's not forget pomelos. This large ancestor of the grapefruit signifies abundance, as the Chinese word for pomelo sounds like the word for "to have".


New Year Customs

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