Every year on January 1st at 12:00 am, I can be found usually wearing some outlandish dress, bright and bold red lipstick, and covered in confetti. It’s my favorite holiday, but it wasn’t until college that I realized not everyone celebrates the new year on the Gregorian calendar’s schedule. My Chinese-American roommate brought me home one weekend to celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year with her family, and I decided I wanted to find out more about the wonderful family traditions they shared.
I soon discovered that more than a billion people worldwide celebrate the Chinese New Year, which is based on the Chinese lunisolar calendar and lands between mid-January and mid-February depending on the year.
From exchanging red envelopes of money to eating noodles that symbolize a long and happy life, there are seemingly endless new traditions to learn about. Learning about customs from around the world helps open your eyes to how other people live, love, and celebrate. Ultimately, sharing these traditions helps bring us all together, and along with good luck and prosperity, I think fostering goodwill among all people is something the new year is all about. This year, get together a group of friends to play some Chinese New Year party games. If no one in your group celebrates it, use it as an opportunity to learn about it together, then get ready to have some fun!
Challenge Friends to a Cooking Competition
Like many great holidays, food plays a huge part in Chinese New Year celebrations. I’m also a huge believer that trying foods from different places is a delicious way to learn more about different cultures, and getting my friends to try new things has always been a passion of mine.
But even better than tasting new foods is actually cooking them yourselves! That way, you have a chance to learn about the specific ingredients that go into a dish, while learning about flavor profiles you might not be used to.
A cooking competition is the perfect way to get everyone to start learning more about Chinese cuisine. Since dumplings (which symbolize wealth) are a traditional dish to eat at Chinese New Year celebrations, they’re the perfect item to focus on. If you have a big kitchen, you can have everyone prepare and cook the food there, but it might also make sense for each person to make their dumplings at home, then freeze them before cooking. Everyone can bring the frozen dumplings to your house, then take turns steaming, boiling, or pan-frying them. After each batch is done, host a tasting.
At the end, everyone should write down their favorite dumpling on a piece of paper that’s dropped into a box, from which the host can count the votes. For the winner, head to your local Chinese grocery store and look for a New Year’s candy box you can give as the prize. Everyone will leave your party with their tummies full, and better yet, with a newfound appreciation for Chinese cooking.
Play Chinese New Year Bingo
During Chinese New Year, red envelopes filled with money are traditionally given out, usually to children or from older family members to younger. Even bosses at work often give their employees gifts in red packages. So why not have your party guests compete to win a red envelope of their own?
I like to play at-home bingo at parties. It’s really easy! Instead of using a traditional bingo-ball dispenser, I just use a dice. I also create my own bingo boards, numbering each square with a digit from 1-6. But to add extra flair to your New Year’s party, decorate each square of the bingo board with images of different items involved in the celebration, like firecrackers, red envelopes, and lanterns.
Ask each guest to bring one dollar to the party, then put all the money in a red envelope. The winner of the bingo game will get to take home the envelope and all the money inside.
Host a Chinese New Year’s Gift Exchange
Sharing gifts with friends and loved ones is a hallmark of the Chinese New Year’s celebration. From sweet cakes to red envelopes to trays of candied fruit, you never go to anyone’s house empty-handed during the festivities.
Setting up a gift exchange with your friends is a great way to honor this tradition of giving. And organizing it is super easy, thanks to sites like Elfster, so you can spend more time enjoying your party than worrying about logistics. Just register with Elfster and set up the exchange, including a price limit if you choose. Elfster will automatically assign gift recipients to each person, Secret Santa-style, and everyone can even make a wish list for their benefactor to scope out before they buy a present. Try to get a gift that will help the year ahead be as pleasant as possible, whether that’s something pampering or something to make their home cozier.
Then, host a big party where everyone’s secret gift-giver will be revealed and presents will be opened. You can serve traditional Chinese New Year foods to feast on before and after everyone gets their gifts. And don’t forget a bottle or two of sparkling cider to toast a year filled with prosperity, luck, and generosity among friends.
Celebrate the Chinese New Year With Party Games
I’m always looking for new ways to celebrate with my friends, and after my first Chinese New Year, I knew it was something I wanted to share with the ones I love each year. Not only are the traditions and customs a great way to reflect upon and honor the year ahead, but they’re also fun to learn about together.
By being curious and respectful of other cultures, we can help the world feel a like a smaller place. And when we feel like even people living thousands of miles away are our neighbors, it leads to a more peaceful and understanding world. Celebrating Chinese New Year with your friends can help foster cultural understanding, and when there are games involved, who wouldn’t want to participate?
Not sure what to give your friends this Chinese New Year? Check out Elfster’s $25 and Under Gift Guide. Don’t forget to share your favorite New Year’s traditions on Elfster’s Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, and on Instagram @Elfstergram.