It’s two weeks before Chinese New Year.
Visit an aunt’s house and you’ll more likely than not see sprigs of pussy willow in blue and white porcelain vases, sprays of red firecrackers hanging from the ceiling, red packets strung on potted plants, and round Chinese lanterns by the front door.
You will also probably see these two – dubbed Golden Boy and Jade Girl according to Google – hanging out on your aunt’s front door.
That’s what Chinese New Year decor is all about – red, round, and usually very loud – definitely festive but also kind of tacky.
As far as tradition goes, there’s no rule that says you have to decorate your house the way your grandparents did. Here are five elegant ideas to decorate for Chinese New Year that won’t burn a hole in your pocket.
A little red goes a long way
The color red is auspicious in Chinese culture, signifying prosperity and good luck. However red as a shade can be jarring when found in big obvious items like cloth banners or giant ball lanterns.
Instead of purchasing obvious decorative items that can only be used once a year, try adding red touches to simple arrangements. Classy and subtle is what you should be aiming for, not overbearing and eyeball-burning.
A quick idea is to add some tissue tassles and some mini lanterns to a scavenged tree branch. The translucent red of the tissue and the wood of the branch contrast nicely with the traditional lanterns to produce a surprisingly pleasing and quirky look. (Tassles tutorial here: http://apairandasparediy.com/2012/04/diy-tassel-garland.html)
Play with floral arrangements
Instead of generic storebought cardboard items, opt for flowers, always an elegant choice to jazz up any room. In Chinese culture, flowers signify the formation of fruits, which in turn represent rewards and wealth. Blossoming flower arrangements and evergreen plants symbolize renewal and good things to come in the lunar new year.
Besides the usual pussy willow branches and lime trees, experiment with other flowers such as plum blossom, narcissus or even peonies.
A small sweet arrangement of peonies lends the perfect finishing touch for your reunion dinner table.
You don’t need to specially go out and buy decorations when you could make do with things you already have at home. Try repurposing daily items around the house for a inexpensive yet unique look.
Got that paper lantern hanging around since the Mooncake Festival? Turn it into a vase (and fill it with springs of cherry blossoms!). Your side table is instantly transformed into an interesting focal point, and one that looks suitably traditional yet edgy.
Or what about that wreath left over from Christmas? Add appropriately red details such as empty hongbao packets, some silk flowers, old coins (or taels) and you have yourself a gorgeous welcome sign for guests when they come visiting. Bonus: your creative recycling, money saving ways may also impress your mother in law.
Don’t be afraid to DIY
Honestly, nobody really wants to see yet another pair of stylized chubby kids dressed in Chinese finery plastered on your front wall. Make your own CNY decor and stand out from the crowd (as a Pinterest-er in your own right.)
DIY and crafting are not necessarily difficult. Here are a couple of quick easy ideas.
Empty hongbao packets are commonly used in DIY CNY decor, usually folded and sliced into miniature lanterns, but you could try using them in different ways.
Like creating a Chinese paper fan out of them. Instructions here.
If you really must make those paper lanterns, spice them up with tassles or other details that will set your decor apart. Better still, create a feature wall by stringing red lanterns of different sizes along it and impress your friends with your decorating prowess. Tutorial here.
Get your kids involved!
There’s no reason why your children shouldn’t join in the fun and learn a bit more about their culture. It can also be a great bonding activity while getting them to practise their fine motor skills.
Print out a blossom branch printable here and encourage your kids to fill out the blossoms! Ideas range from finger painting to sticking cutouts or buttons, or even crumpling up colored tissue for a 3D version.
Proudly hang this up in your living room. Not only will this make a great conversation starter, it will show those snooty kiasu cousins of yours just how smart your kids are.
Spring cleaning and sprucing up the house done, it’s now time to kick back, eat lots of good food, and enjoy the festivities. Here’s wishing you all a very happy prosperous Year of the Monkey!