Traditions of Purim

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The “Purim Story” is derived from the Book of Esther, or “Megillat Esther”. The dramatic events that form the basis of the Purim celebration are described in a prior blog on the History of Purim. Today, we wanted to focus on some of the customs surrounding this holiday, particularly those that entail the special foods eaten during the happy Purim feast and the Mishloach Manot (Hebrew) or Shalach Manot (Yiddish). This year, the Purim celebration begins on Wednesday, February 28th and ends on Thursday, March 1st.

Misloach Manot Ideas

Literally translated as “sending of portions”, the Misloach Manot is specifically mentioned in the Book of Esther: “…. Therefore do the Jews of the villages, that dwell in the unwalled towns, make the fourteenth day of the month of Adar a day of gladness and feasting, and a good day, and of sending portions to one another. …” Thus, one of the traditions of Purim is to send gifts of food and drink to friends and family. Anyone above the age of Bat Mitzvah (12 years old for girls) or Bar Mitzvah (13 years old for boys) is expected to participate in the Shalach Manot.  The foods must be ready-to-eat and there must be at least 2 types of food included (that is, food that requires different blessings from each other). The obligation is to send to one person, but most people send gifts to many.

It is also customary to use a 3rd party messenger to give the gifts since Misloach or Shalach means “to send” rather than “to give”. That’s why we at Manhattan Fruitier offer a line of gifts for Purim that we can deliver for you! We have four Mishloach Manot ideas that should please anyone on your gift list.

Hamantashen

Each of our Purim baskets contains the essential food that most embodies the meaning of this holiday: hamantashen! Hamantashen is a three-cornered or triangular shaped pastry that is folded to disguise (not completely, but partially) the sweet fruit-based fillings inside. Most Misloach manot ideas would include hamantashen. Our baskets for Purim include both the traditional poppy seed hamantashen as well as apricot, and they are both Kosher.

If you already know the story of Purim (if not, you can refer to our blog on the History of Purim — see link above) you will know that Haman was the evil Prime Minister of the King of Persia, who was married to Esther. Haman plotted to massacre the Jews but was thwarted by Esther. Hamantashen (Yiddish) is literally translated as “Haman’s hat” or “Haman’s pocket”; in Hebrew it is called Oznei Haman meaning “Haman’s ears”, and these little pastries do resemble these items.

The word tash in Hebrew means “weaken”. It may be that eating hamantashen or “weakening Haman” symbolizes the many incidents described in the Megillah where the tables are turned on Haman. For example, Haman was once strong and in the king’s favor, then he was out of favor with the king and became weak; Haman wanted royal robes and to ride the streets on a royal horse, but Mordecai ends up being given that privilege; Haman was once the Prime Minister, then his nemesis Mordecai was given his position; Haman once owned property, then Queen Esther inherited it; Haman once plotted to kill the Jews, and then he and all his family were killed, etc.  Another interpretation is to show that something bad and evil can be turned into something sweet.

The way hamantashen is made also reflects one of the core themes of Purim. The sweet goodness of the filling is hidden inside the pastry, the same way that Esther’s true identity as  Jew was disguised, and the same way that it is said all the miracles of Purim directed by God were concealed.

Wine

It is also typical that ideas for Shalach Manot include wine! Since Purim is a joyous holiday it should come as no surprise. Wine always adds a celebratory note to any festive event. But there are several possible explanations that come from the Talmud and the Story of Purim itself. The Book of Esther distinctly states that the Jews rejoiced at Purim by drinking. The Talmud also says that on Purim, one is to drink to the point of not being able to distinguish between “cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordechai”! However, the Talmud also says that drinking should be moderate so as not to get so drunk as to break any of the commandments.

In accordance with tradition, then, we have paired each of our Purim baskets with a delicious wine. The wine in our Misloach Manot baskets are all Kosher and are imported from Galilee, Israel.

Purim Delight With Wine (wine can only be delivered in New York State and Washington, DC)

Purim Delight With Wine
(wine can only be delivered in New York State and Washington, DC)

We offer both a dry, full-bodied red wine (Alon, 2012 from several varietals) and a crisp and citrusy white wine (Sauvignon Blanc, 2016) from the Galil Mountain vineyard.

Other Traditions

When reading the Megilla or the story of Purim, it is common practice to use a noisemaker or stomp one’s feet every time the name of Haman is spoken, as if to expunge him the way he wanted to wipe out the Jewish race.

Dressing up in costumes and/or masks is another Purim tradition. While the entire Book of Esther does not mention “God” at all, it is believed that God was actually guiding the way at every point in the story. In other words, God’s miracles were hidden from Esther and Mordecai. And Esther hid the fact that she was Jewish from the king who wanted to marry her. Dressing up may also reflect the dressing up in royal garb as Esther did as Queen and as Mordecai did when he was honored by King Ahasuerus. So disguise is an underlying premise of Purim.

Finally, it is expected that one will give to charities during the Purim holiday. Matanot L’evyonim or “gifts to the poor” are usually in the form of money and typically it would be the amount that would be spent on a meal. Alternatively, one could also send a meal. It is required to give the Matanot L’evyonim to at least two people, but often people choose to give to many in need.

Chag Purim Sameach or “Happy Purim”!


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A Brief History of Purim

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The fascinating story of Esther begins in that part of the world that we now know as Iran, during the Achaemenid Dynasty of the Persian Empire, around the 4th century BCE. By that time, the Jewish diaspora was well established and groups of exiles could be found living in Persia. Esther’s parents were dead, and she was raised by her older cousin, Mordecai, who was like a father to her. Her story is found in the Old Testament of the Bible in the Book of Esther and it narrates the origins of the holiday of Purim.

The Book of Esther (Megillat Esther) or “The Story of Purim”

The Persian empire was ruled by King Ahasuerus who was looking for a new beautiful wife. Reluctantly, Esther was included in the group of young women to be considered. The king immediately fell for her, and she was made queen, all the while keeping the fact that she was Jewish hidden from him. One day, Mordecai overheard a plot being hatched to murder the king. Mordecai got word to the king and the plot was thwarted sparing the king’s life.

Haman, a prime minister of King Ahasuerus, was offended when Mordecai, who was a very proud man, refused to bow to him as was decreed by the king’s order. Haman decided that he would take revenge not just against Mordecai, but against all Jews, by exterminating them. He threw “lots” to determine the lucky day for the massacre, and it was the 13th day of the month of Adar on the Hebrew calendar. Haman told the king of his plans and the king gave him his blessing.

Mordecai told Esther that she had to do something to stop this massacre and that she herself would not be safe even though she lived in the royal palace. Esther told Mordecai to gather all the Jews in the area and have them fast for 3 days after which time, she would approach the king. Although she had not been summoned by him, after 3 days Esther bravely went to the king’s chambers with the knowledge that she could be killed for such an unauthorized intrusion. Fortunately, King Ahasuerus was quite happy to see his beautiful queen and asked her what she wanted. She invited the King and his Prime Minister, Haman, to a feast that she had prepared for the next day.

At the feast, the king again asked Esther if she had a request and she told him that she would like to invite him and Haman to attend another feast of food and wine the following day and she would make her request then. Haman was very honored to be included in this royal fete. But when he left he saw Mordecai who again would not bow to him and he became furious and was compelled by his advisors to build a gallows to hang Mordecai the next day and to go to the king with his plan.

That night, the king was reminded that Mordecai had saved his life and that he had done nothing in return to thank him. When Haman came to ask his permission to hang Mordecai, the king first asked him what he should do to honor someone. Thinking that the king meant how he could honor him, Haman explained that the person should be dressed in royal garments, given a royal horse, and told to ride through the streets of the city proclaiming that he has the special honor of the king. The king rather liked that idea and told Haman to make it so for Mordecai whom he wanted to honor for saving his life.

Haman was chagrined, but carried out the kings wishes the next day. After the ceremony, he went to the second feast with the king and queen. Queen Esther revealed to the king that she herself was a Jew and begged him to save her people from the annihilation planned by Haman and incited by his hatred of the Jewish people. When the king discovered that Haman had already built a gallows upon which he planned to hang Mordecai, he declared that “the tables had turned” and Haman himself would be hanged there.

More tables turned after that: Mordecai was made Prime Minister and Esther was given Haman’s estate. But the decree Haman had had the king set forth – to exterminate all the Jews – was still in place and could not be removed. Instead, Mordecai and Esther had the king set forth another decree that the Jews could fight against their oppressors. And on the 13th of Adar, the day Haman was to begin his massacre, the Jews fought back and killed their would be murderers including all the sons of Haman. The next day was a big a joyous celebration of freedom that became the holiday of Purim (literally meaning “lots” in Hebrew), on the 14th day of Adar, and is commemorated with feasts of food and wine around the world today.


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Lunar New Year Traditions

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Although the Western calendar has been adopted by most Asian cultures, Lunar New Year (also called the Spring Festival) remains a holiday of great cultural and historical meaning going back at least 2000 years! Like Thanksgiving in the United States, travelling home for a family reunion dinner is an imperative for people who celebrate. In fact, in China Lunar New Year counts as the biggest annual migration of people on Earth (even larger than the number of Muslims who visit Mecca every year), with just shy of 400 million expected to take to the railways to travel to their hometowns for the holiday this year. And in New York City, public schools are closed on the first day of the New Year holiday.

The Lunar New Year varies by date year-to-year. It occurs on the second New Moon after the December solstice. This year, the Lunar New Year begins on Friday, February 16th, although the New Year’s eve family dinner on the night of the 15th is the true beginning of the holiday. It lasts 15 days, and culminates this year on Saturday, March 3rd with the Lantern Festival: lanterns are lit at night and then let go into the sky en masse with wishes for prosperity and good luck in the coming year. It is truly magical to behold.

Lunar New Year is not just a holiday celebrated in Asian countries. With our sizable population of Asian immigrants, Lunar New Year and Lantern Festivals are celebrated in many towns and cities across the United States. Here in New York City, the Chinese New Year’s Day parade is a popular multi-cultural event. This is a fun, happy and lively holiday, vivid with colors, music, noise and special foods.

Origins of the Lunar New Year Holiday

Lunar New Year began in China with the fable of a horrible monster named “Nian”. The story roughly goes that Nian liked to eat people and it would come into the villages on New Year’s Day and gobble up the villagers, finding children a particular delicacy. The people of the village would flee from their homes every year before Nian was due to arrive. But one year, and old man stayed to try to fight the beast. The old man draped red papers all over the town and set off firecrackers all night long. Nian did not come and the village came to believe that Nian was afraid of the bright color red and the loud noises of the firecrackers.

This is why red is such a significant color for this holiday. Red repels bad luck and thus allows good fortune the opportunity to reign. People dress in red, decorate their homes in red, and give money in red envelopes. In Lunar New Year parades, Nian is depicted as the familiar dragon that winds his way through the streets and people on the sidelines set off firecrackers and use noisemakers to frighten the monster away and keep them safe.

Preparations for the Lunar New Year Celebration

People spend a lot of time preparing for the Lunar New Year. They clean their houses not just to be ready for family and guests at the New Year’s Eve dinner, but also because it symbolizes the washing away of any bad luck left over from the preceding year and allows room for the good luck in the new year to accumulate. Once the cleaning is done, the brooms and dust pans are put away so that any good luck that comes cannot be “swept away”. Homes are decorated in red paper and some people actually paint doors and window sills with a fresh coat of red paint. Some homes are also decorated with paper cutouts of Chinese phases that will bring good luck. People buy new clothes, often in red or other bright colors, again as a symbol of a new beginning. This is similar to what we see in the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, where people wear new articles of clothing to signify a fresh start with the New Year.

Also analogous to the traditions of Rosh Hashanah is the attention paid to homonyms: words that are spelled alike or pronounced similarly even if they have a different meaning. Auspicious words that mean good fortune, wealth, health and prosperity are emphasized as are foods and other items and activities that sound like auspicious words when they are spoken. For example, the word “hair” in Chinese sounds like the word for “prosperity”. So if you need a “hair cut”, you are wise to get it done before the Lunar New Year otherwise you may “cut your prospects for wealth”. Similarly, you would wash your hair in preparation for the New Year, so as not to “wash away” your chances for good fortune. More on other superstitions under “Taboos” below.

In Asian cultures, business and personal debts, whether of money or of gratitude, are expected to be paid up before the New Year and this is not dissimilar to the thanks and apologies and amends made in Jewish cultures on Rosh Hashanah.

Lunar New Year’s Eve Dinner

Family members will travel far and wide to return home for the traditional annual reunion dinner on Lunar New Year’s Eve. It is customary for guests to bring gifts. If you are invited to such a dinner this week, you can bring or send ahead our “good fortune” gift basket of lucky fruit and Year of the Dog hand-iced cookies in the propitious colors of red and gold!

People will spend days preparing all the special foods customarily found in the Lunar New Year’s Eve meal, not unlike many cross-cultural holidays. Similar to the Jewish New Year, foods that are eaten on the Lunar New Year are homophones for words that convey good luck and prosperity.

Not only do the dishes themselves matter, but the way they are prepared, the way they are served and how and when they are eaten are also significant and will vary depending on local customs and individual family traditions. But a Chinese New Year meal almost always includes the 7 lucky foods: whole fish, dumplings, spring rolls, a rice-based cake called niangao, longevity noodles, certain fresh fruits, and sweet rice balls called tangyuan.

WHOLE FISH:

Certain fish when pronounced out loud sound like auspicious words and so these fish are usually served as the main dish at a Lunar New Year’s Eve dinner party. For example, carp (jee-yoo) sounds quite similar to the Chinese word for “good luck” (jee), and catfish (nyen-yoo) sounds almost exactly like the Chinese word for “year surplus”. And if you eat two fish, it means “surplus year after year”! So the belief is that if you eat these fish you will also literally absorb these good wishes and have much abundance in the New Year.

The fish is usually placed in the center of the table with the head facing the eldest or most important member of the dinner party. This positioning connotes respect to the chosen person, and he or she is to eat the fish first. Fish is generally the last dish eaten. Some fish is always left over to be eaten the next day in the New Year so that the “surplus” can be continued.

DUMPLINGS:

The making and eating of dumplings is also a traditional family activity at the Lunar New Year, especially in Northern China, where they are made after dinner and eaten around midnight at the very start of the New Year. Dumplings are boat-shaped like ancient coins of silver or gold, and thus they represent wealth. Eating lots of dumplings means making lots of money in New Year!

The most lucky dumplings are the ones that are made with many pleats, and some people conceal a white thread or a copper coin inside one of the dumplings: whoever bites into that one will get the gift of long life or wealth, respectively.

SPRING ROLLS:

Named because they are eaten at the Spring Festival, these treats are little dough rectangles filled with vegetables or meat, rolled into bars, and deep fried. The golden color and the shape make them look like “gold bars” and hence they symbolize wealth. Spring rolls are especially popular in Eastern China.

NIANGAO:

Niango (also called Eight Treasures Rice) is a special cake or pudding made primarily of a sticky, glutinous rice and sugar, layered in patterns with a mixture of nuts, dried fruit, seeds such as lotus and gingko, berries, and sometimes red bean paste. The literal translation of niango means “New Year cake” and when spoken sounds like “increasing prosperity year after year” or “getting higher and higher”. The suggestion is that you will gain a better position in your business and your bank account when you eat this traditional treat. In Southern China, niangao is given as gifts to family and friends through-out the 15 day New Year celebration.

LONGEVITY NOODLES:

Noodles are often a part of the Lunar New Year’s Eve meal. They are made especially long (up to 2 feet in length!) and are uncut to symbolize a long and healthy life. Longevity noodles can be prepared in numerous ways, and traditions will vary with the local cuisine.

FRESH FRUIT:

Citrus fruit are especially coveted on the Lunar New Year. The round shape is a symbol of fullness and the yellow, golden color denotes wealth. In keeping with the purpose of many other foods at the reunion dinner, the names of certain citrus are homophones for good luck. That’s why we include only the best citrus fruits in our Lunar New Year gift basket.

TANGYUAN:

These sweet rice balls are featured prominently during the Lantern Festival at the end of the 15 day Lunar New Year celebration, and in Southern China are eaten throughout the holiday. Again, the round shape signifies fullness and the sound tangyuan makes sounds similar to gathering together, like the family reunion dinner on Lunar New Year’s Eve.

Lunar New Year’s  Day Celebrations

After staying up all night, or at least until after midnight to greet the New Year, daytime celebrations may be quieter, although in New York City, the annual “Chinese New Year parade” that snakes around Chinatown and little Italy is a lively and festive New Year’s Day celebration. Firecrackers and fireworks are set off to ward of evil in order to allow in all the good fortune. Giving gifts of money in brightly colored red envelopes is another holiday tradition and most people will receive a red envelope from someone. People will dress in new clothes, often red (the luckiest color) or other brightly hued colors to reflect their wishes for a good year and their happy mood.

Lunar New Year Taboos

The traditions of many cultural holidays arise from ancient myths and fables that are passed down over generations and while they may become diluted, they often persist and Lunar New Year is no exception. There are many superstitions surrounding this holiday in Asian cultures.  Following are some interesting examples of beliefs and taboos for the first day of the Lunar New Year:

  1. Don’t take medicine or you will be sick for the entire year.
  2. Don’t go to the hospital or you will bring sickness on yourself for the entire year…. unless it’s an emergency!!
  3. Don’t take out the garbage or you will be dumping out all the good luck that has accumulated in the house.
  4. Don’t use knives, scissors, needles or other sharp objects that you could hurt yourself on. Any accidental injury can bring bad luck and loss of security.
  5. Don’t break tools or equipment as it can cause a loss of wealth in the New Year.
  6. Don’t eat porridge for breakfast because it is what poor people generally have for breakfast and the New Year doesn’t want to start off “poor”.
  7. Don’t let children cry because it will bring bad luck to the family.
  8. Don’t wear white or black clothes because these colors are associated with death and mourning and you don’t want to bring that into your house.
  9. Don’t allow anyone to steal from you, especially don’t be pick-pocketed because it means that your entire accumulated wealth for the year will be stolen.
  10. Don’t owe any money lest your wealth will go to others.

Next year will be the Year of the Pig, representing the 12th and final cycle in the 12 year lunar calendar. Until then, wishing everyone a very lucky and prosperous Lunar New Year!


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Unique Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas for Her

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Valentine’s Day has been celebrated here in the United States for over 300 years. It’s a popular and happy holiday, particularly for couples who are romantically inclined. However, it can also be stressful. People often feel pressured on Valentine’s Day to find a way to adequately express the depth of the affection they feel. As a result, you may end up spending a lot of money searching for something unique to buy, something different to do, or something impressive enough to demonstrate just how much you love and appreciate your special person.

While I would certainly not recommend waiting to the last minute to think about the Valentine’s Day gift you want to give, nor would I recommend using your local supermarket for a store bought card and plastic wrapped roses, I can say with confidence that you can find small and sweet ways to acknowledge the subject of your adoration that will carry just as much meaning as a grand gesture.

There are two key guidelines to follow when looking for unique Valentine’s Day gift ideas for her:

  1. Make it personal
  2. Put in a little effort

When your gift reflects her individual tastes and preferences, you are telling her how intimately you know her. And when your gift shows that you had to put in time and thought, you are telling her how much you care. This is what romance is all about – it’s not about the money.

Classic Gifts With A Twist

Red roses, chocolate-covered strawberries, champagne and sexy lingerie have become rather predictable gifts for Valentine’s Day and while they are sure bets, they are also fairly banal so don’t make the cut for unique Valentine’s Day gift ideas for her. Why not play a bit with the classic ideas?

FLOWERS: For example, instead of sending roses, get her favorite flowers instead. These days, our access to flowers is not confined to the seasons so that’s no excuse. Spring flowers such as tulips and hyacinths are readily available and can be the harbinger of warmer weather and bluer skies. Of course, if you don’t know her favorite flower…. well, you should!

CHOCOLATES: Sweets are a lovely Valentine’s Day gift for her, but there’s no need to be restricted by the ubiquitous chocolate-covered strawberries. A little research on the web will reveal all kinds of fun and unusual chocolates to treat her with. When she opens our precious “jewelry box” of bonbons, she will behold an array of shiny “gemstones” that are as beautiful to look at as they are delectable to eat.

Our one-of-a-kind French bulldog chocolates are an adorable and unique Valentine’s Day gift for her and you can’t beat the charming packaging.

The old-fashioned “conversation” hearts can be a nostalgic Valentine’s Day sweet gift for her. Pair it with a Victorian-era Valentine’s Day card asking her to “Be Mine” and some tea roses that looked like you picked them from Grandma’s garden, and you have a very traditional gift with an old-time feel that makes it seem fresh again!

LINGERIE: Instead of lingerie, think about something else in a sexy, satiny fabric. How about a silk blouse in a bright ruby red, sapphire blue or emerald green? Be sure to get the size right! If you don’t want to splurge on satin sheets, satin pillowcases are a real treat and women like them because they help keep our hair in place while we sleep. Besides, they feel wonderful against the skin.

CHAMPAGNE: Champagne is very festive, but maybe it’s not her preferred drink. Think about gathering the ingredients to make her favorite specialty cocktail, or visit a local distillery where they are making artisanal gins and whiskeys and enjoy an afternoon of tastings. Remember, it’s not about giving a gift that the holiday dictates: it’s about giving a Valentine’s Day gift that is personal to her.

Surprises Big and Small

Organizing a surprise definitely takes time and effort and if your sweetheart likes spontaneity, then this could be the perfect way to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Surprises can come in lots of packages. There is, of course, the grand display: tell her to pack a weekend bag, pick her up at work and go to the airport headed to Paris, Milan or Reykyavik! But there are many ways to surprise and delight that are more modest.

For example, what does she do every day? Let that guide your gifts. You could present her with a Starbucks card (or put the app on her phone and hook it to your account for a week or months worth of morning coffees), or get her a subscription to a wine of the month club. Gifts that give more than once are truly memorable.

Show her you love her by doing some of the chores she does every day: make the bed; clean the kitchen; take out the recycling; plan, shop and prepare a nice meal; walk the dog; pick the kids up from school, etc.  Gifts like these take effort on your part, and give her the precious gift of time. She can choose how she wants to spend it.

Leave little hand-written love notes where she will find them all day long on Valentine’s Day. Put one in her wallet, in her briefcase, on the bathroom mirror, in the fridge, in her lunch bag, in her underwear drawer, in the car, on the alarm clock in the morning, etc. Anywhere she will discover them through-out the day. You’ll be reminding her multiple times how much she means to you. And isn’t that the point of a Valentine’s Day gift?

Take it Public

Valentine’s Day gifts for her are often shared in private. Why not make a statement with a public display of your affection? Send a gift to her at work. This will surprise her and bring attention from her co-workers. Go to her work and take her out to lunch. Kiss her in public. Hold hands while you walk.

Do something she enjoys with her. Take her to her favorite store and participate in the shopping experience, whether it is testing perfumes, looking at jewelry, or trying on clothes for example. How about getting side-by-side pedicures and manicures? Sign the two of you up for a wine tasting class, or a cooking class, or a lecture at the museum, or a sporting event. One year, Jehv came to an exercise class of mine and it was hysterical watching him as he tried to keep up with the tough work out. He is very physically fit, mind you, and he never had much respect for what he perceived as the “girlie” gym classes I went to. But after taking this class with me he was rather chagrined and he let me know how much he admired my strength and stamina.

Tell her why you love her

Although the meaning of red roses and other Valentine’s Day gifts may be readily apparent don’t miss the opportunity to use your words! Make it personal if you can. If you do give her a card, take a little time to write something yourself. Although the card will hold the sentiment, to make it personal it needs your own touch. You can never go wrong if you simply tell her why you love her.

Note that while the focus of this post is on unique Valentine’s Day gifts for women, many if not most of my ideas can easily be translated into unique Valentine’s Day gifts for men. This holiday is traditionally about gifts for her, but why be mired in convention? Believe me, your guy will be thrilled to be acknowledged on Valentine’s Day. Remember, the same guidelines apply: make it personal, and put in a little effort. Happy Valentine’s Day to all!


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Gift Ideas for the Lunar New Year 2018: The Year of the Dog

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This year, Friday February 16th marks the first day of the New Lunar Year! The date changes every year and is based on the Chinese Lunar calendar which uses a 12 year cycle instead of the more familiar Western 12 month cycle. The holiday used to be called Chinese New Year (and still sometimes is), but since the holiday is celebrated among many Asian cultures, it has now become more commonly known as the Lunar New Year, and more recently, the Spring Festival.

Despite the fact that most Asian cultures have adopted the Western yearly calendar, Lunar New Year has maintained its status as a culturally significant and historically important annual holiday. The celebrations begin on the eve of the holiday (February 15th this year) and last for 15 days culminating with the magical Lantern Festival.

The Lunar New Year is a big gift giving holiday. Gifts that symbolize prosperity and good fortune for the coming year are offered to business associates and extended family alike. Whether you are sending it from afar, or bringing it to your host for a traditional Lunar New Year’s eve reunion dinner, there are some simple rules to follow when choosing an appropriate gift for Chinese New Year.

Fruit Baskets

Fruit baskets are time-honored gifts for Lunar New Year. Lucky for Manhattan Fruitier! And luck is what this holiday is all about. Customary gifts are those that are symbols of good luck, wealth and prosperity. Typically, citrus fruits are given this time of year for several reasons. First of all, the Lunar New Year falls during the cold winter months when citrus is the most abundant fruit. Secondly, citrus fruits are round in shape and “gold”en in color: roundness suggests fullness in the belly and the pocket, and having “gold” means having wealth. Finally, the way the names of citrus fruit such as tangerines and oranges are pronounced in Chinese sounds like the same word for “success”.

Every year at Manhattan Fruitier we like to create a new Lunar New Year gift that incorporates only propitious fruits along with cookies hand-iced in lucky red and gold colors and made in the shape of the animal of the year: this year, it is the dog, known for its loyalty, sociability, smarts and courage. How adorable is this gift?

Traditionally, fruit baskets are displayed on the Lunar New Year dinner table as a kind of centerpiece so a pretty fruit basket filled with symbols of good fortune is a perfect Chinese New Year gift to bring whether for family, friends or business partners!

Money

Cash gifts are also common to give on the Lunar New Year. This makes sense as the holiday is all about welcoming wealth. This time of year, shops in Chinatown here in Manhattan are simply overflowing with lucky red envelopes for cash. If it’s wrapped in red it’s more than just the dollar amount: it’s considered lucky money! Make sure the bills are clean and crisp as it would be considered highly disrespectful to give a gift of old or dirty cash. And take care not to use white envelopes: these are reserved for cash gifts given at funerals only.

Numbers hold great traditional significance. For example, the number four when spoken is very similar to the word for death in Chinese. So for the lucky Lunar New Year, you will want to avoid giving a monetary gift in an amount that includes the number four. Even numbers are the best bet and since the luckiest number is eight and it is believed that good things come in pairs, it has been suggested that $88 is the perfect amount of money to give if you are going to give cash for a Lunar New Year gift.

Among business associates, paying off of any debt incurred during the past year is expected before the Lunar New Year begins. It does not bode well for prosperity if you carry a debt into the New Year, so it is also considered de rigueur to refuse giving a loan to someone you care about.

Dog-Themed Gifts

Since 2018 begins the Year of the Dog, it could be a fun idea to send a gift that is sweet and untraditional, but on topic with the Lunar New Year, such as our litter of six chocolate French Bulldog puppies: 2 each of dark chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate!

 2018 Lunar New Year Gift Idea

2018 Lunar New Year Gift Idea

Dogs themselves are considered lucky animals to the Chinese. Dogs are faithful companions who will be loyal to you whether you are wealthy or not. One adage is that if a stray dog comes into your home, it is a sign that good fortune is coming soon. So an unexpected gift of chocolate dogs will be welcomed on Chinese New Year!

Rice Jars

A symbolic gift to give for the Lunar New Year is a proverbial jar full of rice! In Asian culture, a full rice jar connotes affluence and the good fortune to be free from concern about having enough food to eat. During the Lunar New Year celebration, it is important to have food be plentiful as a harbinger of the riches to come. While many modern day kitchens do not have an actual physical jar of rice, the sentiment of this gift for the holiday will not be lost.

Liquor

A gift of liquor is also quite common at this holiday, especially among corporate colleagues. Look for the amber-colored spirits and wines in keeping with the belief that gifts of gold color will bring wealth and good fortune. There are so many interesting options available these days with the artisanal spirits trend: whiskeys are more popular than ever! Before giving a gift of wine or liquor, it’s always a good idea to be sure that your recipient drinks alcohol.

Gifts to Avoid

There are certain gifts that would be considered bad omens to bring into one’s home and should be avoided during the Lunar New Year. For instance, although fruit baskets are customary gifts at this time of year, pears should not be included because the way the word for pear sounds when spoken in Chinese is not auspicious. Scissors and knives are thought to represent the act of slicing apart or splitting and can suggest the severing of a relationship. Also, if you were to cut yourself on the gift, it would bring bad luck for the following year. Clocks symbolize the passing of time and the approach of death, which is not what one wants to bring into their home. Beware about giving a necklace, a tie or a belt as a gift, unless it is to someone you have an intimate relationship with as these items are all things that are believed to bind you together so are usually exchanged only between couples.

Colors carry deep meanings in Asian cultures. As I mentioned above, the color white is associated with funerals. Black or blue color signifies death. So when considering a gift for the Lunar New Year, be careful to wrap your present in a lucky color. Red is believed to be a color that scares away evil spirits that bring bad fortune; yellows and golds symbolize wealth and prosperity. So be sure to include these colors in your Lunar New Year gifts and you will clearly communicate the wish you want to bring with the gift you give.

In my next blog about the Lunar New Year, I’ll talk about some of the history and holiday traditions of this fascinating ancient celebration.


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