One of the most common food symbols of the Chinese New Year is oranges. Oranges are a popular symbol of good luck. The associations come from a similarity between the Chinese words for tangerine and gold, as well as a resemblance between the words orange and good luck.
Fruits are temple offerings. Did you ever wonder why? What about oranges? Did you get any this past Chinese New Year holiday? Were they fresh? The Chinese love fruits, they like them big and beautiful, and they prefer fresh fruits, though sugared ones are common at this time of year. Fresh fruit at the New Year symbolizes life and a new beginning. Sugared ones are a wish for a sweet year. Traditionally, the pomelo, mandarins or what we call the tangerine or clementine, as well as limes, bananas, pineapple, and water or winter melon are seen as temple offerings. And speaking of traditions, during the harvest festival, the Lunar New Year, and other special occasions, fruits are common gifts, as well as common offerings.
It isn't uncommon in Chinese culture for similar sounding or spelled words with very different meanings (homonyms) to become suggestive of one another over time. Oranges and tangerines are also a bright, vibrant orange, a happy color that's associated with good fortune.
During Chinese New Year, tangerines and oranges are displayed as decorations and are also exchanged among friends and acquaintances. Sometimes, small trees are kept for this purpose. When giving these fruits as gifts, offer them with both hands. It's polite for the recipient to refuse at first, so keep trying.
The orange is a prayer or wish for good fortune. That is why it is probably the most common food offering. As a harbinger of wishes for good luck, they are often eaten on the second day of the New Year. Why not the first, because once an Emperor distributed oranges to his officials on the second day of the New Year. Thus you are also wishing for officialdom if you eat them on this day.
Fruit is almost always a good Chinese New Year's gift. Oranges are a traditional favorite, though, and can also represent happiness and abundance, as in an abundant harvest. If there are still leaves and a stem attached to the fruit, it also means fertility.
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