How to Set the Table for Chinese New Year

If you haven’t celebrated Chinese New Year before, we highly recommend it! It’s a wonderful festival that brings loved ones together so they can wish each other a prosperous and bountiful year ahead. The festival is celebrated for two weeks, with families coming together for a reunion dinner on the last evening of the festival – the lunar new year.

A lot of attention is given to both the decorating of the home and the dinner table for Chinese New Year. Every item is chosen for its symbolism and ability to attract good fortune and prosperity for the year ahead.

If you’d like to host a Chinese New Year dinner this year, here’s how you can set and decorate your table to usher in blessings for the year.

The meaning behind the Chinese New Year table decorating

The art and science of Feng Shui were first developed in China more than 3,000 years ago. The practice is dedicated to balancing energies in a space to promote good health and great fortune. This same science is applied to the Chinese New Year table: every element has been chosen wisely for its ability to attract good fortune, good health, luck, and prosperity in the New Year.

Red is the colour of choice

Celebrating Chinese New Year means seeing red, literally. Red is the colour of everything on the table, from the tablecloth to the napkins and lanterns hanging from the ceiling. This is because the colour red is considered to be a lucky and auspicious colour in China. This tradition began with the legend of Nian, a beastly animal with the body of a bull and the head of a lion. Nian was said to be terrorising a nearby village during the night, eating the livestock, crops, and even the children. Eventually, villagers were able to defeat the beast by learning the three things it was afraid of fire, loud noises, and the colour red.

Use red placemats, decorated wooden or bamboo chopsticks, and zodiac-themed table runners to create a base foundation for your Chinese New Year dinner table. From there, you can add different layers and elements to bring the table to life.

Red pockets

How to Set the Table for Chinese New Year

Red pockets, or red envelopes, are gifts traditionally given to children on Chinese New Year by their elders. The money, known as lucky money or New Year’s money, is given to pass on a year of good fortune and blessings to the younger generation. On the other side of things, children sometimes give red pockets to their elders as a sign of gratitude and blessing of longevity.

This is another tradition that came from the legend of Nian. As the story goes, parents gave their children money at night so that they could bribe the monster into not eating them. The practice of exchanging red pockets started in the Han dynasty, where in place of real money, children were given small coins to ward off evil spirits. The coins had auspicious phrases and symbols engraved on the surface.

Red flowers

Chinese New Year is also known as the Spring Festival, and flowers help bring life to your table. Go for cherry blossoms, plum blossoms, and pussy willow branches decorated with red ribbons or in red vases. Orchids are another popular Chinese New Year flower, representing nobility. Hyacinths and Narcissus are chosen for luck, and Peonies are a symbol of peace and prosperity.

Other plants that are popular on Chinese New Year include mandarin, oranges, and kumquats. These can be placed in small bowls on the table. Bamboo plants are also popular on Chinese New Year, considered to be lucky and representing health, abundance, and resilience.

Red lanterns for the Chinese New Year celebrationRed lanterns

Lanterns are not necessarily part of the table setting, but they will quickly create an auspicious atmosphere for your CNY celebration. Traditionally, red lanterns are hung outside doors to ward off bad luck.

Red candles

To add an abundance of red to your table, light red candles in the centrepiece. Go for long candles or wider candles to create an atmosphere of good fortune and luck at your Chinese New Year dinner.

Chinese crockery

Make sure to decorate your table with traditional Chinese crockery. Besides bamboo or wooden chopsticks, you’ll want blue and white porcelain or ceramic bowls for rice, decorated with Chinese symbols of good fortune. For more decoration, add ceramic blue and white jars for salt and pepper.

Red paper cuttings

The art of paper cutting is a long-time Chinese tradition, and in Chinese New Year you’ll find red paper cut-outs (known as jianzhi) hanging on the walls as decoration. Some jianzhi are incredibly detailed works of art, while others are simple creations that you can even make yourself at home.

Get a Private Chef this Chinese New Year

If you’re confident you can tackle the Chinese New Year table decorating, but not so sure about the cooking – we can help. Our private chefs are specially trained in Chinese cuisine from different regions of China, combining exceptional technique with age-old recipes. We can help you enjoy a blissful and delicious Chinese New Year dinner with your loved ones – including canapés, drinks, and cleaning up afterwards. Get in touch with our team now to organise your Chinese New Year catering!