Chinese New Year at John’s: The Significance Behind the Snacks and Crafts

By Clarissa Wemple, Second Year Psychology Undergraduate

A couple days ago on the eve of the Lunar New Year, the international students’ reps hosted a wonderful event in the Vasey room to celebrate the coming of the new year of the pig!

Johnians were treated to an array of delightful snacks that included:

  • Vegetable & Chicken Gyozas
  • Vegetable Dumplings
  • Pork Dumplings
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Strawberry Chocolate Koalas
  • Rice Crackers
  • Seaweed
  • Lemon Tea
  • Chrysanthemum Tea
  • Shrimp Crackers
  • Steamed buns (Mantou)

Despite being absolutely delicious (According to one of the International Reps, Athena, the snacks were wiped out almost immediately!), did you know that some of the snacks carry much significance for Chinese New Year?

Photo Credits: http://thehappyfoodie.co.uk.

For instance, dumplings 饺子(jiaozi) signify wealth, since it is made to look like Chinese ingots (which unlike the typical ingots, are oval and turned up at the two ends – almost like a little boat). Therefore, it’s been said that the more dumplings you eat during the New Year festivities, the more wealth you’d rake in during the New Year! The dumplings are made in a thin dough skin, with popular fillings including minced meat, prawns, and chopped-up vegetables.

As for sunflower seeds, the Chinese character for seed, 子 (zi),  also means children and is said to be lucky as it symbolises fertility.

Seaweed, which looks like black moss, is used in replacement as a snack since black moss is typically used in Chinese soup. Black moss, 发菜 (fa cai) in Cantonese (fat choy) sounds similar to the last two syllables of the Cantonese Chinese New Year Greeting 恭喜发财 (Kung Hei Fat Choy), which means ‘Wishing you happiness and prosperity’!

The rice crackers, used to represent rice, 米饭 (mi fan) symbolises fertility, luck, wealth, and success. In most Asian countries, it is a symbol of prosperity and abundance. It is also an important ingredient in an integral Chinese New Year dessert, 年糕 (nian gao), also known as Chinese New Year’s cake. It is considered to be good luck since it a homonym for ‘higher year’ and carries the symbolism of raising oneself ‘higher’ and achieving new heights in the new year.

年糕 (Nian Gao).Photo Credits: http://pressurecookrecipes.com.

The sweet drinks (Lemon Tea and Chrysanthemum Tea) are used in replacement of sweets, which carry the significance of ‘sweetening’ the new year.

As for Shrimp, its Chinese character, 虾 (xia), sounds like the Chinese word for laughter. Therefore, eating shrimp is often associated with laughter, happiness, and liveliness.

Photo credits: https://www.unfamiliarchina.com/.

Besides the lovely food, there were also Chinese New Year activities that Johnians could get involved in such as Lantern-Making and Paper-cutting with Art Soc, and Lai See (Red Envelope) crafts with Welfare where they taught us how to make festive fish décor out of one red envelope!    

Other than being tons of fun to make, lanterns and fish carry much significance during Chinese New Year as well. In Chinese culture, red lanterns are a symbol of booming life and prosperity. (I think you can see the pattern here…)  Similarly, fish 鱼 (yu) sounds like the Chinese character for abundance, which is usually used in the Chinese New Year greeting ‘年年有魚’ (nian nian you yu) meaning ‘may you have plenty every year’.

If you missed out on the event, and are interested in getting in on that festive action as well, here’s a simple video tutorial of how to make a lantern for yourself!

All in all, the Chinese New Year event was a wonderful reminder of the diversity that exists within our little college, and gave us an excuse to take some time off our busy University life to enjoy some festive food and fun. (Besides, any excuse to have snacks and a little party is a good excuse!)

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