Every year, the colorful platter successfully gathers crowds and brings families together with its carefully curated sweets. They also symbolize a sweet beginning and luck; hence, their six or eight compartments (the lucky numbers in Chinese culture). But what kind of goodies can you stuff them with? Let’s take a look, one part at a time.
If you open the Tray of Happiness, most likely, you will see a mound of sliced dried coconut. This sweet and crunchy snack is popular during Chinese New Year due to its name (in Cantonese, ‘ye zi’ sounds similar to the words grandfather and grandson). So, eating this snack is wished to promote unity among family and friendships across generations, as it symbolizes three generations coming together to bless the household with health and longevity.
Not only does it have a distinct sweet and tart flavor throughout (skin, pulp, and all), this unique tiny citrus is favorable in Chinese culture, especially in the new year. The name for kumquat (kam kwat) literally translates to “gold orange”. So popping these little treats into your mouth during the New Year can bring wealth and prosperity during the year, as well as a delightful zap into your palate.
When it comes to the Tray of Happiness, roasted seeds take center stage, as eating them symbolizes the accumulation of fortune. Different kinds of seeds are also believed to bring different kind of lucks. There is a belief that eating roasted lotus seeds will bless the eaters with many children. Red melon seeds, on the other hand, can induce happiness, joy, and wealth for those who consume them during the new year.
Nuts have a special place in Chinese culture, as they represent a long life with strong family ties. Peanuts, in particular, have another name in Chinese that means “longevity nuts,” symbolizing longevity, vitality, wisdom, and prosperity. Besides being served plain, they are usually cooked with spicy or garlicky seasonings. Other nuts also hold their own meanings. For example, almonds represent ‘a bright future’, walnuts with ‘reunion’, and pistachios are said to bring ‘happiness and safety’.
Lucky Candy & White Rabbit
The strawberry-flavored Lucky Candy is a hard candy staple in CNY celebrations, individually wrapped in a red and gold foil wrapping. The wrappings are designed to resemble the enveloped (hong bao) handed out during Chinese New Year, so no wonder they’re most popular during the season. In contrast, the iconic White Rabbit had a sweet milky taste and chewy fudge-like texture wrapped in the iconic edible rice paper inner. It’s the go-to that people usually grab to indulge in between family conversations and laughs.
Candied Lotus Roots
Lotus in China is known for its beautiful and pure nature. They are also notoriously nutritious, so they are used in many Chinese medicines and food, including for the Lunar New Year celebration. The Cantonese name for lotus root, leen ngau, sounds like the words “having every year,” so eating them symbolizes abundance, year after year. Its petal-shaped holes are also said to signify open mindsets to new ideas. So, remember to fill in your tray to bring good fortunes and wise minds this year!
Candied Winter Melon
Candied fruits usually fill out at least half of the tray, and the winter melon is one of the more distinct ones. They are crunchy on the outside with a very mild, slightly juicy interior, shaped in rectangular strips. There’s a saying for the treat which translates to “good head, good tail,” so serving them offers wishes for good health and growth from ‘your head to your toes’.
Golden Chocolate Coins
While other sweets might have more hidden, come-from-word-play meanings, this chocolate treat is favored for a more obvious reason. Their appearance resembles gold coins, so loading the tray with these chocolate is wished to bring great prosperity to the family. They are usually made with a lower cocoa content but much higher in sugar, one of many reasons it’s most popular among kids and younger relatives. Another round-shaped chocolate like Ferraro Rocher is also a popular option as they, too, come in gold-colored papers.
The inside of Tray of Happiness may vary between regions or even personal to each family’s preferences. Nevertheless, the general notion of Tray of Happiness is to offer guests and loved ones sweet nibbles that wish them a sweet year ahead, with each bite conveying its own good intention. As you put yours together and share them with loved ones this year, understanding what each treat stands for will hopefully add even more meaning to the occasion!