Friday, February 8, 2013

Decorating for Chinese New Year with Your Own Touch

Every Friday, a column in NST RED will feature an article written by me. It's all about the unique spaces which I have come across that provide interesting or unusual experiences. Yes, the stories I write for NST RED can be about anything as long as it is related to spaces/places. After all, the RED in NST RED stands for Real Estate & Decor.

So, this Friday 8th February 2013 - I have written an article about fun decorating tips for Chinese New Year. As there are always "constraints" in the newspapers' publication, this is the full version with extra pictures and information. 

It will be Chinese New Year (CNY) soon. Traditionally, CNY a time for families to come together - every single family member will make that journey back to her or his hometown, and have their reunion dinner on the eve of the Chinese New Year. Nothing completes a Chinese New Year more than families reunited to usher in the New Year together. As a kid, it is the best time of the year because they get to receive red packets with money inside from all their elders/adults. As an adult, it is another precious opportunity to spend time with families, relatives and friends. Above all, it is to do the real important stuff such as feasting on the sinfully delicious food.

Traditional Chinese New Year Cuisine

This week KL city is abuzz with much activity as many people are rushing to buy all their Chinese New Year items, apparel, ornaments and décor. Traffic is visibly much more congested. May be every Chinese is apparently out at the same time shopping for all the CNY goodies. 

Shopping for CNY Decorations

If there was ever a time when symbolism and superstitions supersede all else, it would have to be during Chinese New Year. Every single item decked out in 
each Chinese household is filled with metaphors of prosperity, great health, good fortune, happiness, and harmony. Every colour, fruit, flower and candy holds poetic meanings. For example, red is a common traditional colour of Chinese New Year that represents joy, virtue, sincerity and good luck. It is also used to ward off bad luck and “unsavoury” spirits during the festive period. Fruits like pineapple, oranges and tangerines are essential features in a Chinese home as they represent the gathering of families and friends, happiness, abundance and prosperity. Flowers like pussy willow, bamboo, plum or peach blossoms all represent the good tidings like blooms of romance, prosperity, long life, resilience and growth. Sweet treats such as candied melons means good health and growth, where as lychee nuts represents strong family ties in the coming New Year. Hence, it would be no surprise to find all these elements and more in a Chinese home during CNY. This is the only time whereby going overboard in symbolism would be approved and most welcomed. This 2013 will be the year of the Water Snake. Therefore, do expect to see many replicas of the snake greeting every visitor in the Chinese household. 

Usually, shopping for new Chinese New Year clothes take a lot of time. And yes, it is tradition that one must wear new clothes for the New Year. So, after getting our new clothes for CNY, the next most important shopping is for the special décor and ornaments to mark the festive occasion. These days, there are a variety of shops which sell pre-fabricated and assembled ornaments. We do not need break a sweat to put things together from scratch unless you really want to, of course. Today’s buyers are really spoilt for choice, because even online stores are selling CNY wares for cheap. A local favourite place to buy affordable CNY accessories would be Petaling Street. Here, everything and anything can be found. Naturally, most of them are also made in China. However, if one prefers a higher quality and more refined ornaments, SSF in Sungai Buloh is a good place to check out.

Table Decor Sample from "The Secret Party"

 Once all the CNY trimmings and knick-knacks are bought, the challenge lies in putting them altogether in a tasteful and creative fashion. Sadly, I am utterly horrible at decorating. It would be likened to asking a hippo to dance the ballet. It is not a pretty sight. Thus, I decided to consult my friends, Erin Jessen and Coral Tong-Swyny, for their imaginative spin on CNY decorations. Both Erin and Coral own a Singaporean events company called, “The Secret Party”. Their company was set up about a year and a half ago. Coral is Singaporean, and Erin is from New Zealand but has been living in Singapore for six years. Theirs is an interesting company specializing in small and intimate bespoke events where personalization to a client’s desires is key. The featured photographs provide a sample of their artistic work. Below are the 5 tips that Erin and Coral have shared with me on decorating for Chinese New Year.  

1) Rice Paper Lanterns

These are an affordable and fun way to "dress up" our homes for the New Year.  Lanterns look great hanging from the ceiling but to add that extra impact, try hanging them in large clusters. For example, above the dining room table might be a perfect spot and suspended at different levels to create a cloud-like effect. Choosing a color scheme is a splendid way to start, but try to keep it to a limit of two to three colors so that it does not become too overwhelming. 

A Chandelier of Red Lanterns

Paper lanterns can be used as table centerpieces as well. Place three small sized lanterns down at the center of the table. Then on the top of each lantern, we can add flowers such as peonies. These floral companions make great choices, as their shape will fit perfectly over the top of the lantern and become a covering for the hollowness in the middle.
We can also use the same concept as above, but instead of the lanterns being presented as a table centerpiece, we can use them as place card settings for each dinner guest. We write each guest’s name in the center of the lantern with a gold ink pen.

Paper Lanterns do not have to be plain. We can add a variety of ideas to help personalize it into our own. Covering them in lace will give it a more “vintage” look, or we could also add ribbons cut into different lengths (tissue paper can be substituted for ribbons here) to the bottom of a hanging lantern to give it a “whimsical” look.

2) Mandarin Oranges
As it is customary to have oranges or tangerines be presented to our guests as gifts, personalizing them is another wonderful way to incorporate a fun décor factor to our CNY celebrations. A cluster of oranges or tangerines can be placed in a large bowl, or they can be displayed lined up on a side table like an art piece, as well as, serving as a traditional facet of Chinese New Year. Oranges can also be wrapped with big red bows made out of satin ribbons, or wrapped in a sheet of lace and tied with a curled ribbon. Small labels could be printed out and then glued to a toothpick, and be inserted into the oranges with a special message of well wishes from you to your guests for the coming year.

A Table filled with Goodies

3) Pussy Willow/Mandarin Wishing Tree
Have pre-made tags ready for guests to write a wish for you and your family for the coming new year is another interesting way to celebrate CNY. Once the guests have written their personal messages, they can hang it on the mandarin or pussy willow tree. This can become a great centerpiece or conversational piece for our homes. After the festivities, these lovely notes can be placed into keepsake box or even framed to hang on the wall as another CNY decorative item for the following year.

4) Horoscope Print Outs
This can be a fun family project. Each household can print out and frame a picture of the “animal” birth sign of each family member.  Then the framed animal pictures can be used as a centerpiece décor or be hung on walls in the dining room or living room. The same print out with different animal birth signs can also be made for the guests and visiting relatives. They are all encouraged to write their own names on it. These are personalized fun ways of decorating, or they can become a nice keepsake for guests to take home with them.

5) Fun for Kids
Keeping children preoccupied during CNY in any household may require more than just iPads, Playstations, tv and etc. We can create print outs of various coloring sheets, and these can be packaged with crayons or colored pencils to keep the children busy. The themes could be based around the different animals of the Chinese Horoscope, or the various meaningful symbols of Chinese New Year such as the double happiness words, mandarin oranges and CNY flowers. When the children are well occupied, the adults can happily indulge in their own “games” over CNY.
A Circus Themed CNY for Kids
As with all decorating, one should not be afraid to adjust, mix it up and modify according to one’s preferences and personal tastes. Some older accessories can be recycled and updated when matched with new items. In the case of adorning one’s home for CNY, it becomes even trickier because some family members might be very particular about the symbolism and its meanings. I know of some traditional folks who are very superstitious and will never have anything to do with the colour blue, or allow hanging umbrellas into their living spaces, and they would definitely take offence to the colour black during CNY. Therefore, it is always advisable to decorate with sensitivity and consideration to the elders who are also residing in the same household. I always find it safer to consult the traditional members in the family and the elders so that they can feel included in the whole process of beautifying the house for CNY. After all, the main focus of CNY is in the congregation of families. Therefore, encouraging every family member to participate will not only minimize any unpleasant surprises, but also help bring the whole family closer together. It is truly heart warming to see how families get together and do their part in getting their homes ready for CNY. At all times, please do not forget to have fun while decorating together. It is the most essential element of the CNY spirit.

For those who are not as superstitious or traditional, you can add your own personal touches in whatever colours that you wish. Brand the CNY decor theme in your home as your own. It could be fun, creative and definitely, original. 
A Fun Invitation to Eat

This CNY the only real decorating I shall undertake will be on myself. I shall be sporting a new look for 2013. My long locks shall be snipped off and a short chic version will crown my head. After which I can fully concentrate on savouring the glorious scrumptious Chinese New Year feasts. There are a few Yee Sangs, and pineapple tarts with my name on them.
Until next time, have a prosperous and happy Chinese New Year. May the year of the Water Snake bring good fortune, splendid 

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