Today marks the beginning of the Chinese Lunar New Year. In China, most people are off from work and school for the eight-day festival. It comes with parties, feasts, gifts of cash and more. If you haven’t participated in a Lunar New Year celebration before, here are five food and drink traditions you definitely want to know about.
1. The Small Year
The Small Year or Little New Year falls one week before the real thing. Families burn pictures of the Kitchen God, which supposedly sends him back to heaven to report on the events of the last year. Tradition says you then must paste a new image of the Kitchen God next to the stove so he can keep an eye on you for the next year.
2. Liar’s Dice
No holiday would be complete without a drinking game, and the game of choice for Chinese New Year is Liar’s Dice. Players shake cups of dice and hide them from one another. One player says what the dice show, often lying about what he has. If he gets caught, he drinks. If he doesn’t, the other person drinks. In the end, everyone wins.
3. Oranges as Decoration
Long considered a symbol of wealth because their color is similar to gold, oranges abound this season. Not only do people eat them, but small orange and kumquat trees decorate homes and offices all over the country. The more fruit on the tree, the luckier you will be in the coming year.
4. Tusu Wine
Drinking isn’t always for celebration; sometimes it is for health. Tusu is a medicinal drink made by infusing wine with rhubarb and herbs. Traditionally, everyone in the household must drink some for a healthy year. Unlike typical Chinese drinking tradition in which a cup is passed from oldest to youngest, on New Year’s it is reversed, with the youngest drinking the Tusu first.
5. Uneaten Fish
The final course of a traditional Chinese New Year meal is fish, but it mostly remains uneaten. In Mandarin, the character for “fish” is the same as the character for “abundance.” The more fish left on the table at the end of the meal, the more abundance the year will bring.
Bonus: The Nian Monster
OK, this isn’t strictly a food tradition, but we bet the monster we’re talking about here probably ate the children he terrorized. So it’s food-related in a sort of terrifying way. Legends say that a lion-like monster called the Nian—which actually translates to “year” in English—came out and attacked people, mostly children, at New Year's. One of its only weaknesses was a fear of loud noises, so people chased it away by banging pots and lighting firecrackers. That’s partly why New Year's parties are still so noisy today—to ward off a return of the Nian.