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Setting the Table for the Year of the Snake

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Year of the Snake Chinese New Year

February 10, 2013, marks the first day of the Year of the Snake.

Thomas Brown


Shopping list: longevity noodles, tangerines, a whole fish, a whole chicken, vegetables for stir-frying, and sweet rice cakes. If you plan to celebrate Lunar New Year on February 10, those items might well be in your grocery basket. 

This Sunday marks the first day of the year 4711 in the Chinese lunar calendar—the Year of the Snake. And to get the new year off to an auspicious start, families will gather to share delicious foods at a reunion dinner.

The names for many traditional Chinese New Year dishes evoke a sense of promise for the year ahead. The Cantonese word for fish, for example, is yu, which sounds like the word for “surplus.” And the word for tangerine, gum, is very similar to the word for gold, a symbol of prosperity.

But it’s not just what you’re eating. Numbers are very important in Chinese culture, and you wouldn’t want to kick off the Year of the Snake by serving an unlucky number of dishes. A table setting should have six, eight, or nine different foods.

To learn more about the food traditions of Chinese New Year, watch this video from Our Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture, now open at the Museum.


Visit the exhibition to see various objects associated with celebratory meals, including beautifully carved 19th-century mooncake molds used to bake pastries for another important Chinese lunar holiday: the Autumn Moon Festival.

The exclusive corporate sponsor for Our Global Kitchen is J.P. Morgan. 

Additional support for Our Global Kitchen and its related educational and online resources has been provided by GRACE Communications Foundation. 

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