Though modern Chinese use the Gregorian calendar and celebrate New Year's on January 1 along with most of the world, the traditional Chinese New Year began in the middle of the 12th month of the lunar-solar calendar. The exact date changes every year, but the holiday typically falls between January 21 and February 20. In 1949 the government rebranded it as Spring Festival, and it remains an important holiday throughout China.
Whether you prefer a traditional approach or simply find a spring party appealing, Chinese New Year makes a perfect prompt for a dinner party with family and friends. But don't feel limited to the holiday date; crowd-pleasing Chinese food works great as a festive theme year-round. Traditionally served family-style, Chinese meals include a variety of dishes accommodating a range of flavors, from sweet to sour to savory. This allows your guests to sample freely and double up on items they particularly enjoy.
You don't need Chinese ethnicity to appreciate this venerable culture, and you can use readily accessible items to set a proper scene. Hang Chinese paper lanterns and decorate the table with red table cloths and paper Chinese folding fans, which you can purchase online or at import stores. Fold napkins in the shape of fans as well and provide chopsticks as well as flatware for each guest. Include a card at each place setting with a different Chinese proverb, preferably written in Chinese script with the English translation on the back. Package party favors (fortune cookies or almond cookies) in a Chinese food takeout box, available from craft and party retailers.
Food takes on symbolic meaning in China, and traditional New Year's dishes promote health, wealth and family unity for the coming year. The menu usually includes a whole fish, turnip cakes, spring rolls, noodles, dumplings and sweet rice balls, among other favorites. You could certainly put together a traditional meal yourself or make it easy and order takeout from your local Chinese restaurant. While American Chinese cuisine differs from that in China, it still provides a fun way to explore the culture.
This collection of American Chinese dishes may not represent a traditional New Year's feast, but it provides a good starting place for a menu plan. A meal composed entirely from this list will leave your guests well-fed and happy -- the ultimate goal of any party host.
Egg Drop Soup - You can prepare this easy and recognizable soup in advance.
Mu Shu Pork - This remains a favorite dish in the American Chinese food repertoire.
Mongolian Hot Pot - Served like fondue, this makes an interactive and fun party food.
Kung Pao Chicken - This spicy dish originated in the Sichuan region China.
Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce - This easy recipe adds balance to your menu.
Chinese Sponge Cake - Traditionalists serve this moist cake plain, but you can also add fresh fruit.
Coconut Ice Cream - This recipe provides a refreshing finish to the meal.