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From red lanterns to spring couplets, we delve into why we put up these decorations during Chinese New Year—and where to find tasteful versions of them

Apart from spring cleaning before Chinese New Year starts, another ritual is decorating the home appropriately to usher in the Spring Festival. Apart from livening up the home, these decorations hold auspicious meanings which invite good fortune into the home.

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Red Lanterns

Although red lanterns are a mainstay during most prominent Chinese festivals and events like weddings, they are particularly popular during the Lunar New Year where they are hung in a pair outside the door of a home or shop.

Oval in shape with decorative gold fringe, hanging these lanterns in front of a door is believed to symbolise happiness, invite good fortune and drive away bad luck. 

Hokkiens may additionally hang lanterns in the shape of a pineapple because in the dialect, pineapple is  "ong lai", which means "welcome fortune". 

An exquisite interpretation of the lantern is the intriguing Concubina Imperiale lamp from heritage brand, Fortuny. Crafted in Venice, the lamp's multiple facets comprise of silk stretched on wooden frames which are then bound with fiery red threads. 

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Paper Cuttings

Since the Chinese invented paper 2,000 years ago, they have been developing the art of paper cutting since the 6th century. Intricate paper cuts are believed to bring good fortune especially when hung on doorways and windows.

Traditionally only women learned to cut complex designs of auspicious symbols and the animals of the Chinese zodiac, with paper cutting one of the skills expected of a bride. These days, paper cutting is practised by both genders and can be seen affixed on windows or other transparent surfaces.

For Chinese New Year, they are always cut out of red paper and designs include Chinese characters, motifs like mandarins or gold ingots, and the zodiac animal of that year. Each character, motif, and animal has an auspicious meaning, including longevity, honour, wealth, and prosperity for the coming year.

 

Although paper cutting these days has become a mass-produced affair, consider purchasing them from paper cut artists such as Singaporean artist, Tay Lianwei, whose intricate pieces combine skill and refined design. 

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Spring Couplets

A tradition dating back more than 1,000 years, spring couplets were originally carved into tablets made from peach trees. The myth goes that spirits visiting the mortal world at night would eventually return to a giant peach tree in the spirit world during the day. The entrance to the tree is guarded by two gods.

This led to the practice of carving the names of the two gods into peach wood to protect against angry spirits. Eventually, it evolved into  into writing blessings, and later, poetry on red paper.

Today, couplets are written in Chinese calligraphy on red paper with a black ink brush. Each couplet conveys the writer’s wishes for the new year with a format and rhythm that is either identical or complementary but featuring the same number of words.

For a personalised spring couplet, hit up your local calligrapher or head to Snack Food so that artist and textile designer Carabelle Cheong can create an auspicious calligraphy writing piece to ward off angry spirits.

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'Fu' or 'Fook'

While the nature of the Chinese language allows for there to be countless homophones, the practice of placing a 'Fu' or 'Fook' in your home is as straightforward as they come. ‘Fu’ in Mandarin or ‘Fook’ in Cantonese is the Chinese ideogram for good luck and is usually placed on or over door entrances.

Some homophone significance comes in the way the character is often placed. For extra good luck, the character is positioned upside down as the word for turning something upside down, or pouring, also sounds like the word for arriving. As such, an upside-down 'Fu' symbol invites good luck. 

Most 'Fu' is written or printed styles but a boho chic variation is Yomac's handmade macrame version.

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Auspicious Flowers and Plants

Chinese New Year marks the beginning of spring so decorating the home with blooming flowers and fruting trees signify the welcoming of the new season as well as wishes for a prosperous year ahead.

Flowers such as cherry and plum blossoms as well as orchids are favoured as they symbolise longevity and the renewal of life. They are also the first flowers to bloom after winter and signify new beginnings in the Chinese culture.  

Consider these glorious bouquets from resin artist, With Saint, which has the faux but fabulous flowers arranged with gold gingko fronds in handmade resin vases.

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