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Chinese New Year sneaks up on me every single year. I’m barely done taking down my Christmas tree and it's time to put up my red and gold and stock up on oranges, red envelopes and dumplings. But you can ensure yourself and your kids a little good luck in this brand new year of the Snake even if you don't have time for lots of advance preparation. Here's how to do it:
Put out some oranges and tangerines. You’ll do more than ward away a cold if you indulge in citrus on Chinese New Year. Tangerines and oranges symbolize luck and wealth, respectively.
Print out a good luck symbol. The Chinese word "fu" is the word for good luck. Draw it yourself on red paper, or print out an online template and have your kids color it, then hang it on your front door upside down to help ensure that good luck arrives in your home.
Order Chinese takeout. Certain dishes bring the best luck for the new year. Start with dumplings and spring rolls (which symbolize wealth), then have lo mein (the long noodles signify a long life) and whole fish or whole chicken, which will bring you good wishes and prosperity. Skip the tofu -- it's white, which is the color the Chinese associate with death, and it brings a bad omen to the new year.
Stuff some red envelopes. The traditional Chinese New Year red envelopes (called hong bao) are usually adorned with gold Chinese characters offering good wishes, but those leftover red envelopes from Christmas cards are perfect. Put in eight dollars for each child, as eight is an especially lucky number in China.
Treat yourself to fresh flowers. Any flower will help symbolize that fresh start that the new year provides. For extra luck, go with Chinese peonies (the "queen" of flowers) or bold red blooms.
Neglect your housework. While Chinese families typically do a thorough house cleaning in the days leading up to Chinese New Year to wash away any bad luck, doing housework on the big day is verboten. You could inadvertently sweep away any good luck.
Go shopping. The Chinese buy new clothes for a fresh start on the new year -- what better excuse to add a little something to your wardrobe?
Make a snake. You only need paint, scissors and a paper plate to make this year's animal.
Light up with lanterns. The Chinese New Year festivities end on February 24th with the Lantern Festival. But your kids can create their own easy lanterns to adorn your house until then.
Let your kids make some noise. The Chinese set off firecrackers and bang drums to ward off bad spirits and attract the good. Set your kids loose with loud drums or cymbals or your pots and pans.
Dress in red. Red is the color of joy and celebration in China, and brings an auspicious start to the new year.
Learn how to say it. You can say Gung Hay Fat Choy, which is Cantonese for Happy New Year, or Xin Nian Kuai Le (pronounced shin nee-an kwie la), if you'd rather extend wishes to people in Mandarin.