This Chinese New Year of the monkey dinner party contains many ideas for elegant tablescape décor with which to inspire your own celebration. As this is a time for provoking good fortune, customary New Year colors where replaced with those which are luckiest for the monkey sign. Favorable shades are white, gold, and blue while the traditional red is regarded as inauspicious. The typically shunned white funerary color is actually a propitious one for the primate, so it is utilized in the dishware. There are touches of blue in the ceramic vessels, and many shades of gold are included in the setting. Further yellow toned gold cording was selected for the napkin rings, as yellow is also regarded as a lucky royal color as it was once reserved only for use by the emperor. The handcrafted napkin rings were fashioned with traditional Chinese good luck knots, each with 8 petal-like loops. This is auspicious as the numbers 1, 7, and 8 are also providential for the monkey. There are 8 chairs in room, though some are off camera. 7 brass candle holders elevate candles with 7 lit wicks, and there are actually 7 good luck knots when the 6 rings are added to the one looped onto a ceramic lid. Of course, the table, table runner, tablecloth, and wall vase are each numbered as one. The Asian wall vase contains blossoming branches which are a prosperous theme repeated in the ceramics. Additionally, little lotus bowls bloom with blessings. Only chopsticks and ceramic spoons are included for dining, because knives unfortunately represent the cutting of relationship ties… and this is a holiday for flourishing connections in the burgeoning of a thriving new year! “Gung Hay Fat Choy, Gung Hay Fat Choy. Sing Happy New Year, Gung Hay Fat Choy.”
“The new moon tells us, exactly when to celebrate with family and friends.” Gold leaf chargers shine as the full moon beneath gold edged plates and propitious lotus blossom bowls. Delicate teacups accompany vintage ceramic spoons bordered also with gold. Bamboo chopsticks display adornment with patterned paper washi tape.
“Clean up the house and get out the broom. Sweep out the old year, bring in the new.” A pristine new tablecloth of muted gold matches cloth napkins encircled by plaited rings embellished with opportune good luck knots.
“Bring out the apples, the oranges too. Their colors bring us joy and good luck too.” Auspicious branches bloom from an Asian wall-mounted vase. Trees neighboring the tablescape are echoed by the table-runner embroidered with leaf filled branches.
“The dragon dances, the lanterns light. The firecrackers light up the night.” Illuminating pillar candles stand eminently upon vintage scrolled brass candle holders embossed with tiny lotus blossoms. Traditionally made Chinese ceramic vessels lavishly depict scenes of lush bird filled paradises, which are decorated further by dimensional gold paint.
Gung Hay Fat Choy… Best wishes & congratulations! Have a prosperous and good year!
P.S. The quoted Gung Hay Fat Choy children’s song lyrics are by Nancy Stewart.
P.P.S. Learn how to make the traditional Chinese Good Luck knots seen here and how to turn them into napkin rings as well as decorating chopsticks with washi tape in my crafting article by clicking HERE!
P.P.P.S. Read more about traditional Chinese New Year celebrations in my article from last year by clicking HERE!
This craft tutorial for traditional Chinese good luck knots makes the perfect adornment for DIY plaited napkin rings which set an elegant tone for Chinese New Year along with quick washi tape decorated chopsticks. The knot demonstrated here is known by various names among diverse Asian cultures… Good Luck, Auspicious, Chrysanthemum, and One Mind. As a traditional Chinese folk art, decorative knots have been made in the same manner for well over a thousand years, though they originated in prehistoric times. These creations have been used to decorate homes, jewelry, clothing, and have functioned as stand-alone gifts as good luck charms. Knot, 中国结 or Jie in Chinese, translates as vigor, harmony, and unification. Therefore, they have been regarded as a token of blessing when gifted for friendship or love and for special occasions like weddings. This sentiment has led to many being passed down through the generations. As the Chinese New Year is a time for provoking good fortune, and yellow is regarded as a lucky royal color as it was once reserved only for use by the emperor, a yellow gold cording was chosen for the napkin rings so that guests will dine as royalty in the burgeoning of a prosperous year.
Begin by purchasing enough cord in silk or satin (in a “rattail” width) to complete the project. You’ll need 21 inches for each plaited ring (126” for 6) and 26 inches for each good luck knot (156” for 6)… totaling 47 inches for each ring with knot (almost 4 feet) or 182” for 6 (23½ feet). (I got mine inexpensively in bulk size from Fire Mountain Gems, whose sale link is in the sidebar, which is a great source for all types of cording in varying quantities.)
I’m demonstrating the good luck knot here by pinning the cords to a cork plant saucer, because it makes clear photography of the process easier. You may find it easier to make a symmetric knot this way, but it can be easily made without pinning anything down. Don’t get discouraged if your first knot looks askew, just untangle the cord and try again. It will get easier with each knot you make. Practice does indeed make perfect!
Start by cutting a 26 inch length of cord with sharp scissors to prevent fraying. Fold this in half to find the center point, which becomes the middle of the top loop (pinned in purple). Fold the left strand to find its center which becomes the middle of the left loop (blue pin). Repeat this on the right strand (red pin in the next picture). Note that I’ve pinned the very center in neutral white to keep the central points flat. The cording should resemble a cross at this point.
Next, fold the top (purple pin) loop over the left side (blue pin). It should now appear as a person with bowed head and outstretched arms.
Then, take the right loop (red pin) and slip it under the top fold-over (purple pin). It should now give the impression of a windswept girl with arms down at sides.
Now take the bottom two straight strands (no pin yet) and slip them under the fold-over above it (red pin). It should look a bit like a yoga contortion at this point.
Next, fold the left loop (blue pin) over what was once the top loop (purple pin), and then slip it under what was previously the bottom strands (no pin yet). It should now bring to mind a game of twister.
Pull all of the outside loop ends outwardly, a little at a time, until the center is taut. It should look like an upside down cross.
Repeat the previous fold-overs going clockwise. Fold the top loose strands (now a pink pin) over the right loop (blue pin). It should give the idea of a girl with really long hair.
Next, fold the right loop (blue pin) over the loose strands (pink pin). It should bring to mind a girl with really long hair, bowing with one arm outstretched and one crossing the abdomen.
Now fold the bottom loop (purple pin) over the left loop (red pin). It should appear similar to a squashed bug.
Take the left loop and fold it over what was once the bottom loop (now the top, purple pin) and slip under what was once the top strands (now the bottom, pink pin).It should bear a resemblance to an unfortunate wad of hair matted in bubble gum.
Pull the ends straight out from the center. It should form another upright cross.
Lastly for the knot, pull the smallest loops outwardly until it forms petal-like structures of equal size. It should now seem more like a Celtic cross. (If it doesn’t look right to you, just pull the whole thing apart and try again. No harm done!)
For the plaited napkin rings, cut 3 pieces of cord (7 inches long) for each ring. Hot glue one end of each piece together like a tripod.
Clip the glued end onto something sturdy for easier braiding (like a small pail full of pens). Make a classic 3 part braid, and then glue the ends together forming a strand. (A classic 3 part braid is like a simple hair braid… made by folding the left strand over the center, then the right strand over the new center, then the new left strand over the new center, then the new right strand over the new center… over and over again until you get to the end.)
For these napkin rings, the knots will need 4 equal loops. To easily do this, just fold one loose strand over to the underside center until it forms the right size. Cut it to the center of the knots back, and then glue it down. Next, take the last loose strand and fold it over tightly against the knot without any gaps. Also cut this strand at the center-point and glue it down. Now take a braided strand and glue each end to this same gluey underside of the knot (without overlapping the ends).
Finally, flip it over and look at your amazing creation!
I saved the easiest project for last. Any inexpensive chopsticks can be made beautiful in a just few seconds with the addition of washi tape. You can even take some extra chopsticks home for free along with your takeout. (These came from the grocery store sushi counter.) They are disposable like plastic utensils, but are so much more environmentally friendly.
Simply adhere the top corner of a piece of the paper tape to the top of the stick. Wrap it around until it overlaps, and then cut it. Press it down hard to make sure it doesn’t unwrap at the dinner table. Use as many layers of it in as many styles as you like. (I used thick neutral tape twice over which matched my table runner.)
Celebrating Chinese New Year is always fun as each year comes with a new built-in theme to accompany the vibrant traditional colors and motifs. In this way, it’s easy to build on the previous event by adding a few new décor elements each year. Use the elegant formal table setting or the fun and playful Kid’s Table… or a combination as ideas for your own celebration. Spend as much or as little as you like, making the evening a complete spectacle or a simple affair. It’s a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the beauty of another culture, and the Year of the Ram will only return in twelve years… and well, it’s a really good excuse for having a great time!
Lanterns are a traditional element of the Chinese New Year because the last day of it is the start of the lantern festival. My printables are an easy way to employ that tradition in your own home. They only need printing, cutting, and gluing. The “Fú” 福 characters, decorating the boxes, have graced the entrances of Chinese homes for many hundreds of New Year’s. It is said to have originated, not just for its meaning of happiness and luck, but also because “upside down” and “to arrive” sound alike when spoken in Chinese, thus making an upside down Fú equate to “good luck arrives”. (For some, however, hanging the Fu upside down is bad luck, so I’ve decided to make the character right side up on my printable boxes!)
Use the printables as favor containers, table crayon corrals, or cut out the character to make an LED lantern or luminaria. I stacked some of them onto a vintage brass tea-light holder and stuck in paper dragon favor puppets to heighten the spectacle… with no expectation that the centerpiece would stay intact long! Using LED lights insures that no fire will catch the paper, even if knocked over… so they are super kid and pet safe. It’s also easy to use the cut-out character to embellish a bamboo lantern like those I’ve painted in the pictures. (See my tutorial for the instructions on how to complete your own.)
Origami cranes are a lovely way to bring the kiddos into the party planning while teaching a timeless art to another generation. The historically traditional crane figure is an apropos symbol of hope for the coming year. The Japanese tradition of the “Senbazuru” folding of 1000 paper cranes is said to grant the maker a wish, such as healing for a loved one. The “Tsuru” (crane) is also said to denote happiness and luck, which is the same meaning of the “Fú” 福 character. These can easily be made with anything from wrapping paper to typing paper (see my tutorial for instructions with a picture for each step).
The powerful guardian lion Fú-dog is a traditional Chinese figure of protection. The one seen here is male because he’s resting a paw on a ball that represents the earth. Usually they are presented in pairs, but I only had one in a bright lime green color. I took this statuette from modern lime lion to antique guardian in a few simple steps (detailed in my tutorial). You can do the same with any accessory that doesn’t quite match your décor. Also set on the side table was a small sheep figure as a traditional way to represent the year. The gilded platter (non-breakable) symbolized the land of the rising sun. A book with more dragon puppets (from Oriental Trading Company, see the side bar for discount links) extra coloring pages, and lucky candy completed the picture.
Decorating the background were a mix of traditionally made bamboo kites (red phoenix bird and orange karp / goldfish) and modern kites (tiger and panda). Extend the New Year’s celebration to the weekend by letting your decorations fly freely. Having something else to look forward to is a nice way to ease the post-party let down that kiddos sometimes feel. (All of these were found on clearance for a few dollars each at Cost Plus World Market.) Above them hung an inexpensive yet lovely Chinese banner (again from Oriental Trading Company) suspended on simple pushpins.
Decorative paper plates and napkins were set onto printed coloring pages depicting all of the animals in the Chinese zodiac. Red envelopes containing coin money in even numbers are a traditional gift for children. Colorful punch, lucky candy, paper cranes, crayons, and mandarin oranges completed the setting.
Orange fruit is another traditional element of the Chinese New Year, so I included them in both tablescapes. It’s an easy way to add color without the trouble or expense of a formal centerpiece. It allows the gorgeous food to remain the center of attention.
Next to it were longevity noodles which symbolize long life when uncut. The dish was topped with prawns because seafood is a Chinese New Year must have. (Just make sure no guest has a shellfish allergy.) A whole fish pointed in the direction of the guest of honor would have been more traditional, but I was out-voted on that menu choice.
Fried springs rolls are practically required New Year’s fare! Adjacent to those were long beans with a black bean sauce and a prawn vegetable dish served over rice.
Some of the dishes were set onto wooden stands to both protect the table and elevate the vessels to different heights.
Each platter should have its own set of chopsticks or spoon. Serving chopsticks are typically longer and more decorative than those one eats with, but I only had one set of that type.
A lovely soup tureen was set into another platter to catch spills. This also contained a serving spoon and a few fortune cookies… an American tradition only, but why not celebrate the blending of beautiful cultures. Scattered around the center were some vintage boxes containing lucky candy.
Many Chinese tables are fitted with “lazy susan” turntables at the center so that everyone can reach each dish. I have a couple of these, but opted for a different style of arrangement this year. Hanging in a circle from the chandelier, was another red banner like the one in the other room.
Down the center of table ran a length of metallic sprayed mesh fabric to coordinate with my grandmother’s china. She actually purchased the tableware when she lived in Taiwan for a time. A simple white tablecloth anchored it all. I was hesitant to use white, because it can be considered a funerary color (yikes), but it was the only thing I had that suited the china… which was incidentally made the year of a ruler’s death, thus the color of the teacups were made white instead of the normal red (according to my grandmother).
Tea is the drink of choice for such a celebration, and its cup is placed to the right just as in a Western table setting. The bowl for soup or rice goes to the left where a Western bread plate would sit. The flat bottomed spoon is set into that if there is no double rest for spoon and chopsticks. At the top and center is a small rimmed plate for dipping sauce. Usually only one variety is served universally, but I served 3 kinds from which guests could choose from.
Seated on the side table in the background were three of my grandmother’s dancing statues, an orchid, and one of my painted lanterns.
Above that were two of her woven hats that she requested I hang on the wall as décor. There really was something here for everyone.
In celebrating this Chinese New Year (slightly early so that I could post it for y’all), I tried to incorporate traditions and symbols while adding some playful American touches. In this way, I believe we can pay special recognition to the beauty of our blended cultures.
P.S. If any of you live near Frisco, Texas… be sure to check out “Tasty Garden Chinese Restaurant” whose kind individuals would love to make your party preparations easier by adding a beautiful dish or two to complete the setting. Who says you have to make every recipe at the table? They’ve said they would be happy to work with individuals to avoid allergens… which is always appreciated! http://www.tastygardenonline.com/