It seems not so long ago when everyone was busy setting up and decorating Christmas trees. In the blink of an eye, the evergreens are gone, replaced by kumquat trees or peach blossoms. With Christmas and Chinese New Year merely one month apart, there seems to be a non-stop show of decorations everywhere from the city center to commercial and residential buildings.
Being a Chinese New Year tradition to decorate with different plants, there must be some auspiciousness surrounding each of the New Year flowers. Here, let me introduce the three most popular CNY plants:
The most widely seen plants during CNY is potted kumquat. Bearing the meaning of “lucky” (吉利: Quat Lei), this plant does not need a beautiful story to explain why it is auspicious. People often put small pots of this tree at home for luck, while some put them at their business premises for profit. Kumquats also bear the meaning of 大吉大利: Tai Quat Tai Lei, directly translated as “big tangerine big profit”. So, for those who want good luck and prosperity in the year of the Rooster, potted kumquat is the plant of choice. However, do not give kumquat to people outside of the family, because to do so signifies giving away the luck and prosperity of the family to others.
As a gift, the plant of choice would be narcissus, also commonly known as daffodil or water fairy flowers (水仙花: Seoi Sin Faa). This plant makes a good gift because it is small and can easily be cared for. Aside for being a symbol of purity and elegance, it is also believed that they bring prosperity and kindness to the family in the New Year.
While the Ancient Greek legend of Narcissus is well-known, not many know the Chinese one. The story began with the death of a rich landlord leaving all his lands to his two sons. The elder son was smart and capable, and the younger was dumb and kind. Not surprisingly, the younger son was cheated by his elder brother, who gave him only a small piece of pebbled land on which nothing could be grown. After years of selling everything he had, the younger brother had nothing left except for the barren land. He starved and his call for help to his brother was ignored. So he cried hopelessly which was heard by the Jade Emperor in heaven.
Sympathizing for the plight of the younger brother, the Jade Emperor sent one of his fairies to offer some narcissus seeds to the younger brother, asking him to grow and sell the flowers. At first, the brother was suspicious of how his bare land could grow anything. Then around New Year, his land was filled with beautiful flowers with a scent that attracted everyone passing by to buy them. To ensure the prosperity of the younger brother, the Jade Emperor put a spell on the flowers that they only blossom once, except for those grown in the young brother’s land. So, year after year, people went back to him to buy the flowers. One of the patrons included the elder brother who had become poor, but the younger brother generously gave him narcissus seeds to grow flowers for selling every year. That was how, according to our legend, narcissus represents prosperity and kindness.
Finally – peach blossoms (桃花: Tou Faa). We see lots of large plants of peach blossoms everywhere during CNY, and you may have seen young people running round and round the plant. That is to enhance luck in finding romance, and give what we call peach-blossoms-
luck (Tou Faa Wan). As there is not enough space for this story, it will have to be told another time.