Chinese New Year signifies a new year for the Chinese according to their Chinese calendar. The date Chinese New Year falls on every year will vary if it is referring to the Gregorian calendar as the Chinese calendar sometimes have an additional month added every thirty-two to thirty three months, in which they call the “leap month”. This year, the first day of Chinese New Year will take place on 28 January 2017.
There are twelve zodiac animals associated to the Chinese calendar, whereby every year, there will be an animal representing that year. The twelve zodiac animals begins with the rat, then ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and lastly the pig. This year, it is the year of the Red Fire Rooster. The direct translation in Cantonese to English for Red Fire Rooster (“hoong fo kai” in Cantonese) also means “red turkey”, so will anyone begin a new trend of eating turkey this year for Chinese New Year ? Perhaps wrap the turkey up in red packets and there you have it, the red fire ‘rooster’.
Before Chinese New Year, the Chinese will be busy preparing for this celebration. They will have their spring cleaning which involves sweeping their whole house’s ceiling with bamboo leaves aside from the usual cleaning methods such as wiping, sweeping, mopping or vacuuming to clean the whole house. They will throw out unwanted items and declutter their house, then buying some new items for the new year. There is a saying that goes “out with the old, in with the new” but of couse, the ‘old’ here does not apply to the elderly like your grandparents or parents. In Malaysia and many countries with Chinese communities, they try to keep their family under one roof and prefer not to send their elderly to the old folks’ home but old folks’ home will have the help and nursing care needed to take care of the elderly. So, this is up to the family’s preference.
The Chinese will also hang up a red cloth or decorative banner above their main door and decorate their house with lightings. They will put up items with prosperous wordings or signs around the house. One of the famous wordings is ‘fook’ in Cantonese which means ‘prosperity’. They will prepare red packets with money inside, which will be given out during Chinese New Year. Red packets are called “hong pao” in Cantonese, “ang pao” in Hokkien and “hong bao” in Mandarin.
Red packets with picture of money in the middle.
Red cloth hung over the doorway and Chinese lanterns with lightings are decorated around this house.
They will stock up on Chinese New Year biscuits and snacks which will be served to guests during open houses or visits. The Chinese will also eat New Year Cake, called “nin gao” in Chinese, which means “year cake”. It is sweet and sticky. Most of the time, these biscuits or snacks will be eaten even before Chinese New Year itself, so re-stocking will need to be done. Those who are preparing for Chinese New Year meals and prayers will be buying a lot of the raw ingredients such as whole chicken, pork, prawns, seafood, mushrooms, vegetables and fruits. Some are bought a month earlier to be kept in the freezer and some are bought a day or so before Chinese New Year. Some wet markets are not open during the first day of Chinese New Year as those stall owners are celebrating Chinese New Year but there is always the supermarket.
Chinese New Year celebration lasts for fifteen days. A reunion dinner is held on the eve of Chinese New Year, which is a day before the first day of Chinese New Year. This is where families will gather together to have their dinner. The ladies who are already married will not go home to their parents’ home until the second day of Chinese New Year and will have their dinner with their own family or in-law’s family instead. Many who are overseas or outstation will rush home to have reunion dinner with their family as it is a significant part of tradition. Some will have prayers at midnight to welcome the God of Prosperity, which is believed to bring wealth to the family and businesses.
On Chinese New Year day itself, everyone celebrating will dress up in new clothes and it is tradition to be dressed in red. Some would have already worn their new clothes during the reunion dinner itself. They will greet each other “Happy Chinese New Year”. The younger ones will wish their elderly and receive red packets in return. One of the most famous form of greetings is “Gong Hei Fatt Choi” in Cantonese or “Gong Xi Fa Cai” in Mandarin, which means “wishing you abundance of wealth”. It is also believed that one should not sweep their floor, wash or cut their hair on the first day of Chinese New Year.
The second day is known as “hoi nin” in Cantonese or “kai nian” in Mandarin, which literally means “open year”, where it is the beginning of a new year. On the second day of Chinese New Year, it is when those who have married will come back to their parents’ home with their spouse to visit and have a meal.
Some of the meals they have during Chinese New Year are as follows.
– Home cooked dishes with rice where chicken, pork, white cabbage, oyster and pork belly soup is a must. Rice must be cooked extra so that it will not be finished during one meal. (mainly for Cantonese);
Chinese New Year reunion meal (this style is usually eaten by the Cantonese).
– “Pun choi” which consists of a variety of food such as seafood, meat, mushrooms laid on top of each other and cooked, then a thick gravy is poured over to cover the whole dish.
Pun choi before the thick gravy is poured into it.
– “Yee Sang” which is a dish consisting of finely shredded vegetables garnished with sweet and sour sauce with oil and sometimes smashed peanuts are added, then slices of raw fish (usually salmon) is added to the dish. This dish is then tossed using chopsticks by those gathered around the dish while good wishes are said aloud. The higher the toss signifies the higher the growth of the tosser’s wealth, so those tossing usually lift their chopsticks as high as possible. “Yee Sang” literally means “raw fish” but in Chinese, it can also mean increase in abundance and is also called “lou sang” or “lou hei” in Cantonese.
Yee sang (also known as lou sang or lou hei).
– Steamboat where a variety of raw dishes, such as fish patty, fish balls, vegetables stuffed with fish paste, meat, eggs, vegetables, different types of mushrooms and seafood are boiled in a pot by those gathered around the dining table and eaten.
Talking about steamboat, in our previous posts, we showed a video about making fish patty. Those fish patties are for sale, so if you are interested, do keep in touch.
Some will go visiting during Chinese New Year and they will bring some gifts to be given to the hosts. Mandarin oranges will usually be one of the gifts because mandarin orange means ‘kam‘ in Chinese and ‘kam‘ translates as ‘gold’ in English.
We hope that those who are preparing for Chinese New Year will have a smooth preparation and wishing you a Happy Chinese New Year in advanced.
*Please note that the celebration might differ slightly in different countries and also those celebrating following different Chinese clans may have their own customs. Some families have even created their own modern beliefs for Chinese New Year. Whatever way you are celebrating, as long as you are happy and it keeps the spirit of celebrating Chinese New Year alive, may it be the way for you then.
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