The symbolism and meaning of Red Eggs and Ginger
During Cameron's Red Egg and Ginger party, I sat down with my mom and did a mini interview with her to understand the cultural significance of this tradition.
At a high level:
- Eggs are a symbol of fertility, birth, and new beginnings in Chinese tradition.
- Red is a symbol of happiness, good luck, and good fortune
- Ginger is a traditional Chinese ingredient for moms recovering from birth, believed to help balance the mom's energies and qi.
- Ginger is also considered to be sour, which sounds like the word for grandchild ("syūn" in Cantonese). So, it's a good omen for lots and lots of future grandkids.
Apart from the symbolism, my mom also touches on not having a lot of material wealth as a kid (much less than we have now, and certainly much less than her grandson).
Eggs were not an everyday commodity like they are now in most developed nations - my mom had to raise her own chickens to have access to eggs. She'd maybe eat eggs once or twice a year (on her birthday, and for Chinese New Year.)
Other Chinese traditions
For special occasions like this, my parents usually honor our ancestors with a handful of symbolic rituals like bowing with incense and burning spirit money, also known as joss paper.
This isn’t absolutely necessary to do for a red egg and ginger party, but I feel like it’s important to touch on. A big part of the motivation behind Made With Lau is to help celebrate and share our heritage with our son, our future kids, and all of you reading this.
If you're interested in learning more (or just getting a recap on what you might already know), read on!
Why do we bow with incense?
In my mom's words, we're just sending a big "thank you" to our ancestors and asking for their blessings. We're letting them know that we have a new life in the family, and we're asking them for their protection.
Also, we're just letting them know that we're doing well, and that we're happy :)
Traditional Chinese incense on Amazon
Why do we burn money?
Burning is a symbolic act of helping our ancestors stock up on supplies in the heavens. My dad typically burns "spirit money", or joss paper, as a symbol of sending them money to spend.
Joss paper, also known as ghost or spirit money, are papercrafts or sheets of paper made into burnt offerings common in Chinese ancestral worship (such as the veneration of the deceased family members and relatives on holidays and special occasions). Worship of gods also uses a similar paper. Joss paper, as well as other papier-mâché items, are also burned or buried in various Asian funerals, "to ensure that the spirit of the deceased has lots of good things in the afterlife." In Taiwan alone, the annual revenue of temples received from burning joss paper was US$400 million (NT$13 billion) as of 2014.
Spirit money / joss paper on Amazon
Why do we offer our ancestors food? Which foods?
In addition to offering our ancestors money to spend in the heavens, we’re also offering them food to eat.
Our ancestor’s three course meal includes chicken, fish, and Chinese sausage.
- Chicken, or gāi 鸡, sounds like the phrase “hóu sai gaai 好世界”, which literally means good world, and represents a good life.
- Fish, or yùh 鱼, sounds like the word for abundance, “yùh 餘”.
- Chinese sausage has no symbolic word play. It just tastes good, and it’s red, which we already know stands for happiness and good fortune.
When plating these for our ancestors, it's important that the animals are whole, not chopped. Wholeness is a symbol of perfection, completeness.
Why do we offer our ancestors alcohol?
Like in most cultures, alcohol is meant to add to the festivities. In pouring our ancestors cups of alcohol, my mom explains that we're just inviting them to celebrate with us.
There's no one type of alcohol that's appropriate. My dad usually pours out Hennessy / Cognac (lol) because that's what my grandparents preferred.
What else do we need to plan a Red Egg and Ginger party?
As we mentioned, there are a lot of ways to celebrate this, and no right or wrong way. We're just sharing how our family does it :)
You can also host this at a Chinese banquet hall, which typically have red egg and ginger party packages. If this is the case, you won't need to worry about a lot of this stuff.
Here's an overview of what you might want or need if you're throwing your own party:
- Red eggs and ginger (see recipe above)
- Red baby outfit
- I still get a kick out of seeing our cute little baby in his red outfit. We borrowed this from Kat's sister, who got it from Chinatown.
- You can buy these on Amazon as well. Here's one designed for boys, and one designed for girls. There are lots of other options on Amazon and Etsy.
- Red outfits for the parents
- If you wanted to get dressed up in a more traditional style, you can wear a "cheongsam", aka Chinese formalwear.
- Our friends at East Meets Dress have an incredible selection of dresses and shirts for both men and women :)
- Finding these outfits can sometimes be a daunting experience, especially if you don't speak Chinese, so we love what they're doing to make this accessible for our generation.
- If you're interested in supporting a fellow Asian American business, you can use code MADEWITHLAU10 for 10% off.
- Red envelopes
- Usually gifted to the baby and other nieces / nephews :)
- Food, snacks, drinks
- What you serve is really up to you.
- My sister-in-law hosted an outdoor BBQ, which was a ton of fun.
- Ideas for red & gold decor
- Red tablecloth
- Red and gold balloons
- Gold photo frames
- Drawings or figurines of the current Chinese zodiac animal. Since Cameron was born in the Year of the Rat, we had a few rats at our party.
All in all, don't stress too much about it! The main goal is just to have fun and celebrate a new life with your loved ones.
Now, hopefully, you can create your own memories celebrating your loved ones.
Also, I cordially invite you to celebrate Cameron's 100 day party with us. There are a lot of heartfelt moments that we'll be treasuring forever :)
Cheers, and thanks for celebrating with us!
Feel free to comment below if you have any questions about the recipe or the traditions!