On February 8th, we welcome the Lunar New Year and 2016 marks the Year of the Monkey. It’s the most noteworthy and momentous holiday for the Chinese people.
This year will be extra special as it is my first time celebrating with my family after a 7 year stint living in Calgary. It will also be extraordinary because I was born in the Year of the Monkey. Ok go ahead and do the math, that makes me age …
We are encouraged to take the day off from school or work, clean the house and spend time with family.
Strange, I don’t recall ever taking time off from school. Mama and Papa Lee needed me to maintain my “human calculator” reputation so no school off for you!
There are many traditions, customs and superstitions to follow as a way to say goodbye to the past and welcome a new beginning, including sweeping and dusting away the dirt to symbolize the removal of bad luck from your home.
We’re also encouraged not to shower or bathe on New Year as it may wash away the good fortune. Deodorant is acceptable.
Families will join together to eat on New Year’s Eve known as the Reunion Dinner.
Growing up, my mom and po-po (that’s maternal Grandmother in Cantonese, not police) began preparing the dishes weeks prior to the extravagant feast. For example, the abalone (large sea snail) would be soaked for at least a week to enhance the succulent texture.
Our family table are always filled with timeless and flamboyant dishes including pork belly, fried shrimp and Mama Lee’s famous steamed fish with soy sauce, ginger, green onion and cilantro.
Excuse me while I go wipe the drool….
Food is an integral part of our culture so it’s not surprising that certain foods are eaten or given as gifts to attract good health, happiness and prosperity. Here are some examples:
Red is the color of good luck and happiness so we try to incorporate foods like pomegranate, red pepper or lobster in our meal.
ORANGES, TANGERINES AND CLEMENTINES
Because of the bright and vibrant colour, citrus fruits are associated with good fortune. This is a favourable host/hostess gift at a dinner party. When giving oranges as a gift, use both hands as a sign of respect.
Serving a whole fish with the head and tail intact represents prosperity and abundance. Traditionally, half of the fish is served on New Year’s Eve and the other half is saved for the following day.
I think my people have starved for way too long so I am going to eat the whole fish.
Undoubtedly, noodles are a staple in Chinese cuisine and represent longevity (marriage and life) so they can’t be cut or broken.
Pot stickers and dumplings (steamed or deep-fried) are shaped like ancient currency so enjoy them with your family to invite prosperity for all.
This popular vegetarian dish consists of root vegetables such as lotus and carrots, black moss, black mushrooms, tiger lily buds, red dates and water chestnuts. Looks and sounds weird? Well, I grew up eating this stuff and they didn’t call me the “human calculator” for nothing!
This poultry signifies unity and abundance because it can feed an entire family. The best way to prepare the whole chicken (including the head and feet) is through steaming or boiling. We also offer a chicken to our dead ancestors so they are satisfied in the after life.
PEKING OR BARBECUE DUCK
Duck represents fertility so they make an appearance at most weddings and Chinese New Year feasts.
GLUTINOUS RICE CAKE
I’ll be the first to admit that Chinese desserts are off-the-wall. Who else puts beans, seeds and root vegetables and call it a sweet treat!?! Following tradition, nian gao (rice cake) is a thoughtful gift because it symbolizes rising abundance for the New Year.
NOTE: This article was originally posted on my old blog in February 2012. It’s been slightly updated to reflect the Year of the Monkey.