Post by April Fulton, The Salt at NPR Food (2/8/13)
About 3,000 years ago, give or take a couple of decades, the Chinese people began celebrating the beginning of their calendar year with a joyful festival they called Lunar New Year. They cleaned their homes, welcomed relatives, bought or made new clothes and set off firecrackers. And there was feasting and special offerings made to the Kitchen God for about two weeks.
While you'd be hard-pressed to find a two-week-long celebration anywhere these days, most families in China and in Chinese communities throughout the world take a few days off when the holiday begins, one month after the Winter Solstice. This year — the Year of the Snake — it starts with a big feast on New Year's Eve, Feb. 9. Then in many homes, after the feast is cleared, the whole family gathers to make dumplings late into the night.
There are many special foods of the New Year, says E.N. Anderson, anthropology professor emeritus at the University of California, Riverside, and author of The Food of China, a book about historic Chinese government food policies.
Long noodles are traditional, and they symbolize long life. Year cakes — glutinous rice formed into shapes — are also a tradition. Peaches and peach blossoms signal fertility, he says, but one of the most important things to include is food, clothing and decorations that are red. Red paper decorations line the streets, and red packets of money are given to children on New Year's.