Monday, 16 January 2012

Chinese New Year - Tradition & Food

This blog post is a bit hard to write, because I don't know a lot (thank goodness for the invention of the Web) and I have no relevant pictures that are taken by myself. So, apologies and thanks to those I stole your pictures from!

I've blogged about things to do with younger children, and tradition surrounding red pockets and decoration, and thought that I should share a bit more information on other Chinese New Year (CNY) traditions, as well as food we eat during this time of the year.

Chinese has a very complicated and colourful culture, and there are a lot of traditions. But for a slightly more modern Chinese family, most of these traditions are forgotten. It's even possible that we know less than westerners who are interested in them.

Take us for example, we had no idea that Chinese zodiac sign starts NOT on the 1st day of Chinese New Year, but around 3rd to 5th February - 立春 (Lap Chun) the 1st day of Chinese Spring. And to prove that we aren't alone, I asked on my Facebook, and most of us had no clue! So for all of you who doesn't know, the Dragon year officially starts on 4th February this year! (Luckily I got Abby's sign right lol)

The main CNY traditions, that even us western-influenced Chinese know (but not necessary follow) are:

28th of the 12th Lunar month: Spring cleaning
- Not just cleaning the house, but yourself as well, to remove all dirt and bad luck before welcoming the new year to arrive which hopefully bring better luck and prosperity.

30th of the 12th Lunar month: Chinese New Year Eve
- The night where all family members gather together for a lavish Chinese banquet. After dinner, we will have a walk in what we call a 'Flower market', which sells mainly CNY related flowers, as well as stalls selling all sorts of things.

  • Chinese see husband's side of family as the first family, so when families gather for dinner, if you are a woman, you'll be joining your husband's side of family for Chinese New Year Eve's dinner.
  • In 2012, this day will be missing according to the Lunar calendar. A bit complicated to explain so I won't bother.

1st of the 1st Lunar month: Chinese New Year
- We greet the older generations (see more on greeting tradition here) by giving (or shouting) our blessings. And in return the younger generations get a red pocket with money inside from the older generations. 
- We meet up with the father or husband's side of family and greet each other.

2nd of the 1st Lunar month:
- We visit mother's or wife's side of family and greet each other. Again, another opportunity for children to collect their pocket money, and adults to lose theirs.

3rd of the 1st lunar month: 'Red Mouth' (direct translation)
- We don't visit anyone on this day as it's believed to be a day full of arguments.

7th of the 1st Lunar month: 'Human Day' (direct translation)
- The day where it's 'everyone's day' (a bit like birthday but not quite for birth). We tend to just joke around and say Happy Birthday to each other, but not celebrate it

Picture from this blog

15th of the 1st lunar month: Chinese Valentine's Day
- Marks the end of CNY celebration
- We eat a bowl of glutinous Rice Balls filled with different filling, soaked in ginger and cane sugar soup

Clothes: Brand new and Red (or pink)
- For good luck and happiness; of course it doesn't have to be traditional costume, you can be as modern and fashionable as you want to.

Snacks: 'Complete' Box (South China tradition)
- A box each family keep at home for visitors, filled with traditional sugared snacks (e.g lotus seeds, Winter Melon), roasted melon seeds, and sweets

Wedding banquet pic from this blog; this is posh and for wedding
But it'll give you a general idea
Chinese New Year Eve Dinner: Banquet or Hotpot
- Banquet
Traditionally, since it's a big family gathering, the banquet is quite lavish and there will be several dishes (not quite courses) depending on how many people there are. Typically there could be around 8 (for the meaning of Rich) or 9 (for the meaning of Ever Lasting). It can also be as grand as a wedding banquet where there will be over 12 dishes.

It is quite hard to explain what's on the menu. We use ingredients for the meaning, and even we don't understand the menu most of the time by just reading the names. For example, a dish is named 'Great Fortune & Grand (Stock) Market', which is a stew with fine hair-like seaweed and dried oysters. Also it depends on how grand your banquet is. But typically you can see the following on the table:

  • Soup
  • Roasted Piglet Belly
  • Fresh scallops
  • Whole chicken (can be fried or boiled, and again with the chicken head as deco)
  • Steamed whole fish (yes, with the head)
  • Fresh Shitake Mushrooms, Dried Oysters, hair-like seaweed
  • Fried and baked pastry balls
  • Sweet soup

Sometimes we go for hotpot instead, when the group is smaller. Hotpot is literally a cooking pot we put on a portable stove, which can be put in the middle of the dining table. We lay out different types of raw ingredients, e.g Chinese Leaves, fresh Shitake Mushrooms, Tofu, Glass Noodles, Prawns, thinly sliced Beef/ Pork, Eggs, Fish-Meat Balls, etc, and cook the ingredients in the hot soup in the pot.