Chinese New Year
Chinese NewYear (or Lunar New Year) is the most important Chinese holiday of the year. Chinatownis even more bustling than usual during this time as vibrant red lanterns and decorations adorn the streets, loud pops burst from firecrackers, and red envelopes filled with money are given to children. This year, the actual beginning date of the Lunar New Year is February 19th. The spring festival festivities however, begin on New Year’s Eve (February 18th) for two weeks and ends on (March 5th).
Family gatherings are always important, but are especially important on Chinese New Year’s Eve, also known as the Reunion Dinner. Traditional dishes are served and have symbolic meanings based on their pronunciation or appearance. Even the number of dishes served is symbolic, and many households aim to serve eight or nine courses since they are both considered lucky numbers.
In Chinese, the word fish is yú, which sounds like the word that means surplus or abundance. The head and the tail should be intact, signifying a good start and end to the year, as well as unity. So the fish is always served whole for this occasion, usually steamed with aromatics like ginger, scallions, Chinese Shaoxing rice wine, and soy sauce.
Although dumplings (jiaozi) are eaten very frequently, they are a staple at the Reunion dinner since they represent wealth and prosperity, resembling the shape of gold ingots. It also means togetherness and heavenly blessing.
Like dumplings, turnip cakes resemble gold ingots. But they are also associated with fortune and good luck.
Symbolizing long life, noodles (mian tiao) are served uncut. It is superstitious belief that cutting the noodles will bring bad luck.
Like noodles, long green vegetables like Chinese long beans, bok choy, and Napa cabbage, signify long life, and are meant to be served whole and uncut.
Oranges, tangerines and pomelos are served at the Reunion dinner as well as presented as offerings to ancestors. The Chinese word for orange sounds like gold while tangerine sounds like luck, and pomelo sounds like “to have”. The round fruits are also signs of completeness.
As much as foods can symbolize great and beneficial things, some are regarded as bad luck when eaten during the new year festivities. Porridge, an everyday meal, but also is associated with poverty, is not served at the Reunion dinner. Things should also not be gathered in fours, as the Chinese word for the number (si) sounds like death. Eight, on the other hand (ba) rhymes with to prosper (fa).
During this festive Spring Festival season, celebrate Chinese New Year’s whether it is enjoying a wonderful Chinese meal with friends and family at a Chinese restaurant or at home if you are making a traditional Chinese New Year’s feast. And don’t forget the red envelopes filled with cash for the kids!
Gung hay fat choy!