Chinese New Year Festival Foods

Context: AT is a 22 year old student at USC. Her family is Taiwanese, and they celebrate Chinese New Year by cooking a variety of specific foods. AT listed these for me, along with the reasons behind why.

Text: “For one, we eat fish, because in Chinese, there’s a lot of words that sound the same and fish sounds the same as wealth. There’s a saying that every year you get more fish, you get more wealth. We also make this like fortune? cake? Or prosperity cake? It’s called fa gao, you can look it up. We make it because the word for fortune sounds like the word for rise, like bread rising. It’s really good! There’s also sweet rice cake, because it’s sticky, and the word for sticky sounds the same as the word for year. Oh, and of course, dumplings, because they look like the old fashioned coins or like ingots of gold they used to use. Let me think… oranges too, because one of the ways to say the fruit orange sounds like the way to say good luck”

Analysis: AT gave me a list of foods, all that are made and eaten due to a perceived relationship with something they sound or look like. The choice of food seems very sympathetic-magic based, specifically homeopathic magic based. Since the word for the item of food sounds like the word for another preferred item or outcome, engaging with that imitation is thought to produce said item/outcome, in this case, producing fortune in the form of money or in the form of luck. Making a food that either sounds or looks like luck/fortune is equated to making luck/fortune for oneself.