Most people think that’s the standard Happy New Year greeting exchanged in China and all over the world where there is a Chinatown or a Chinese community. In truth, the greeting means, literally, “Congratulations and be prosperous!”
Not “May you prosper” as a hopeful wish but a command to prosper! The Chinese people may be a materialistic race—business is everything to them as a calling, a second nature—but that may be because they are practical and pragmatic. Food on the table is essential, so it is only right that food is also the source of an entire body of myths, traditions, ceremonials, and customs that non-Chinese peoples would carelessly lump together as superstitions.
Their belief system has survived emperors and would-be conquerors, preserved through 5,000 years of civilization along the route from childlike whimsicality to the wisdom of the ages. No doubt the Chinese love food, loud colors but specially red and gold, they still use the lunar calendar and put great store by feng shui when building a house, choosing the right mate for life, setting the clock and calendar for an auspicious date to inaugurate a commercial enterprise. They love fireworks—they invented gunpowder, remember?—and they love silk, jade, big parties with a 12-course dinner, as much as they love anything in nature that promises happiness and harmony (living plants and flowers, fish swimming in an aquarium, paintings on silk scrolls, lanterns swaying in the breeze, “a fan in summer, the moon in autumn”).
Not a hopeful wish but a command to prosper
The Lunar New Year starts on Feb. 1, Tuesday, but even if the “official” celebration has been canceled in Manila’s Chinatown, there will be family gatherings where gifts of sticky rice cakes will be exchanged, so-called prosperity meals will feature special dishes and sweets, and best of all, the kids will count how many red money envelopes they will be taking home from their grandparents and godparents. Congratulations, grow your money!