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Chinese New Year decorations use calligraphy, poetry, plants and food to express hopes for happiness, good luck and prosperity. By keeping the house filled with auspicious symbols, the hope is that the family living inside will be surrounded by good fortune throughout the coming year.
In this article, I’ll explain the basic concepts used for decorating at Chinese New Year. The overarching idea is to use all the tools at your disposal to declare your family’s wishes for the year ahead, whether it’s longevity, career success or general abundance.
The cornerstones of Chinese New Year decorating are the beautiful calligraphy banners collectively known as fai chun that are written in black or gold ink on bright red paper.
The simplest banner is the good luck character, or doufang, a single word or expression such as “happiness,” “wealth” or “spring” written on a square of paper. One of the most popular characters is fu, meaning “good luck” or “blessings”, which is commonly displayed upside down on the front door to symbolize good luck “arriving” or “pouring” into the home.
Good luck characters are frequently paired with spring couplets, or chunlian, 4-7 character poems written on long strips of paper that are hung around the edges of the front door. The poems are generally comprised of complementary phrases celebrating the beauty of nature or expressing wishes for a happy and prosperous future.
When arranged together, good luck characters and spring couplets create a cheery Chinese New Year greeting for visitors to your home.
Around your living spaces, it’s common to hang smaller four-character banners called chuntiao, which declare specific hopes for prosperity, health or success in business. You can display good luck characters or calligraphy banners in auspicious locations like on windows (so that luck rushes in from outside), on the refrigerator door (for a full pantry) or outside a child’s bedroom (for advancement in school).
The Chinese don’t generally decorate with cut flowers, especially around Chinese New Year when anything cut represents severing good luck. Instead, live plants and full branches of blossoms are used to convey symbolism and a sense of renewal.
For example, fresh flowers like orchids represent love and fertility, while peonies stand for spring and wealth. A more elaborate arrangement like the “three friends of winter,” which combines plum blossoms, bamboo and pine, is rich in symbolism for the virtues of perseverance, utility and longevity.
If flowering plants aren’t your thing, consider a small citrus tree. A tangerine or kumquat tree, filled with fruit and decorated with red ribbons, welcomes a year of growing wealth and prosperity.
A final option, a bowl of fresh fruit displayed in your kitchen or living room, is the easiest decoration of all. Oranges (with their green leaves still attached) symbolize prosperity, while peaches stand for longevity.
Taken together, Chinese New Year decorations complement the cooking and cleaning activities that occur prior to the holiday. Freshly scrubbed and with a full cupboard, your decorated home will be ready to welcome the new year.
Your turn! How does your family decorate for Chinese New Year? Want to ask a question before you celebrate this year? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!