Why do Chinese eat fish during Spring Festival?

Key Learning Point (Preview):

年年有余 (niánniányǒuyú) May you always get more than you wish for.

The Spring Festival has come to an end and all of us have to go back to work. Thinking back to the Spring Festival, do you remember the plate of “鱼 () fish” made by your mother? Did you eat that plate of fish? The plate of fish made during Spring Festival has special significance. Let’s learn more about this tradition.

Every family will have a plate of “鱼 () fish” on the table for the Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner. “年年有余 (niánniányǒuyú),” or “May you always get more than you wish for” expresses perfectly the meaning of this tradition. Here “鱼 ()” and “余 ()” share the same pronunciation. As such, people use “鱼” in their meals to symbolize “余.” “余” means extra or surplus.

All over China, people have the tradition of having a lucky plate of fish on Spring Festival. In the south of China, the plate of fish is the last dish on the table at a Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner. People place it on the table, but don’t eat it. They keep the plate of fish through the New Year in hopes that it will bring them wealth. However, in some places in the south of China the first “热菜 (rè cài) hot dish” served is fish, but people don’t eat it until the dinner comes to an end. In the north of China people also have the custom of having a plate of fish on the table during a Chinese New Year’ Eve dinner, but they are used to eating the fish. However, whether one eats it or not, having a plate of fish at a Spring Festival dinner represents people’s hope for a good life in the New Year!

Key Learning Point:

年年有余 (niánniányǒuyú) May you always get more than you wish for.

Lái lái, chī yú, hǎo shēnghuó, yídìng yào niánniányǒuyú.
Host: 来来,吃鱼,好    生活,      一定     要   年年有余!
Come on and eat the fish. All of us will surely get more than we wish for in the future.

     Hǎo de.
Guests: 好 的。

Zhè yí dào yú jìyǔle rénmen shēnghuó niánniányǒuyú.
这   一  道  鱼 寄予了  人们      生活          年年有余。
This plate of fish shows that people will have more than they will need every year.

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