Lucky Symbols of Chinese New Year

Last weekend we zipped over to San Francisco Chinatown for the Flower Market Fair, in preparation for Chinese New Year, which begins this weekend.

Grant St., temporarily a pedestrian mall, was lined with colorful red booths, and packed with crowds of people, shopping for flowers, fruits and holiday foods. Red lanterns and bright colored pinwheels danced in the air, smells of roasting chestnuts and caramel corn, sounds of drumming and lion dances.

Chinese New Year, also called the Lunar New Year, lasts 15 days, beginning with Spring Festival on the first day, and ending with dragon parades and Lantern Festival on the last day, a full moon.

On the first day of the New Year, families get together, visit friends, exchange gifts, children are given lucky money envelopes, and everyone shares a holiday dinner with special dishes.

Celebrations are a time of new beginnings, and wishes for good fortune, prosperity, long life and abundance in the coming year. Decorations, food, flowers, performances have special symbols and significance.

Fish – Symbol of abundance and plenty.

Pinwheel – “Auspicious” pinwheels blow away bad luck, bring good fortune.

Fu – This Chinese character means “fortune” or “blessing.” Turned upside down, “luck has arrived.”

Fu Lu Shou – Three Star Gods represent happiness, wealth, longevity. In the photo, Shou is on the left, holding a pink peach (longevity), Lu on the right holds a gold ingot (wealth), Fu in the middle holds a scroll (happiness or good fortune).

Bamboo – Represents growth and harmony, multiple stalks point to wealth and prosperity.

Orchid – Symbol of good luck and good fortune.

Mandarin orange – Orange is associated with gold and wealth. Mandarin oranges and tangerines are popular gifts.

Sunflower seeds – Seeds represent wishes for many children.

Fortune cake – Fa Gao, “cake that has expanded,” also called Prosperity Cake, or Lucky Cake.

Candied kumquats – Sweet happiness, golden color symbolizes prosperity.

Lantern – The Lunar New Year ends with the Lantern Festival, celebrated with many bright lanterns glowing in the night sky.

Firecrackers – Scare away evil spirits.

Lion – Look for lion dances, in parades and community fairs, the lion chases off evil and brings good fortune.

Dragon – Symbol of strength, power, protection, and kindness, brings good fortune to all. Each year, San Francisco Lantern Festival Parade ends with the golden dragon, carried by over 100 men and women!

Getting ready for Chinese New Year is always fun.

Every year, I add more decorations for our home – lucky fish, pinwheels, lanterns, flowers and fruits, and stuffed animals for the zodiac year (somehow we have three lucky rats this year).

And we cook new dishes as we learn more about the traditions of Chinese New Year.

We go to Golden Gate Bakery (Grant St. in Chinatown) to buy Fortune cakes, coconut and custard tarts, cookies and more. (Prepare to wait in line.)

Tip: Also read our blog post Children’s Books for Chinese New Year