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May fortune bless you

Upon birth, the Chinese believe that we are already a year old, not zero. On the first day of the Chinese New Year, another year is added. Age calculations can get messy. My husband was born in December 1963, which made him already a year old. When the New Year came in February 1964, he turned 2, even if by the non-Chinese calendar used by most of the world, he was only a little more than two months old.

Let us welcome fortune, prosperity and peace this year.

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Apple and pear apple (ping guo) in Chinese sounds like “peace” (ping an), thus the apple symbolizes safety and security.

Apples are on top of the list of fruits for Chinese people in the new year. They are thought to ward off chaos and bring peace to the family.

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Peaches are also another favorite. A symbol of longevity, they are often presented to elderly people to wish them a long and happy life.

Interestingly, several of our Chinoy friends gave us pears last Christmas, but pears are supposedly not ideal for Chinese New Year.

Pear (li) in Chinese sounds like “separation,” thus, pears are thought to weaken family bonds.

Noodles

Noodles symbolize longevity, so they are a staple in Chinese birthday celebrations.

Eating birthday noodles is fun. Try your best not to cut them. With the chopsticks (experts prefer these rather than forks), you guide the noodles into your mouth. Only when your mouth is full that you bite into them.

Even if the birthday celebrant is not present, many Chinese still dine on birthday noodles in honor of the former.

During my childhood, when I was sick and thus unable to attend the birthday celebrations for my grandparents, I would still be given birthday noodles. Even if I could not join the merriment, I still ate the noodles at home as a sign of respect.

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Noodles are also de rigueur during Chinese New Year, eaten in the hope of a long and happy life in the years ahead.

Fish

Fish (yu) in Chinese sounds like “extra,” thus many Chinese businessmen believe that having fish in the house or office will bring in extra profit.

Koi fish is popular, but nothing beats the “get rich” (fa tsai) goldfish.

“These goldfishes are bright orange,” say Yi and Bryan Ellis in their book “101 Stories for Foreigners to Understand Chinese People.” “They have such a rotund body that they look like balloons ready to pop. Their owners typically pack hundreds of them into one giant rectangular tank.

“Both their individual butterball look and sheer number represent abundance in the literal sense. Their obese bodies show that they are clearly well-fed, and their large number means the [business] is going to have lots of ‘extras.’”

Red

Red is the luckiest color for the Chinese, symbolizing a plethora of goodness: wealth, safety, fertility, fortune, happiness.

In weddings in the Philippines, Chinoy brides still wear white as they walk down the aisle in church, but at the reception, several change into red gowns as they celebrate the start of married life.

After giving birth, new mothers present friends and family with hard-boiled eggs dyed red, since these are thought to confer fertility and fortune, the way the newborn babies bless the home.

Many Chinese start the new year wearing red as protection against danger. This is especially important for those who believe that the coming year is particularly challenging.

“The Chinese believe that one is typically unlucky in the zodiac year in which one was born,” say Yi and Bryan Ellis. “For example, if you are born in the year of the [rat], then every [rat] year is considered especially dangerous for you. In order to protect themselves in their zodiac year, many Chinese wear bright red underwear all year round.”

Red, too, is the color of the money envelopes (hong pao) given by grandparents and parents to the kids. The bills inside are crisp and new, signifying a fresh start to the year.

May fortune smile on you this coming year.

Queena N. Lee-Chua is with the board of directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her book “All in the Family Business” at www.lazada.com.ph or call National’s Jennie Garcia at 0915-421-2276. Contact the author at [email protected]

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