Chinese New Year in 2018
starts on February 8, 2018
"The Year of the Dog"
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What do you do on Chinese New Year's ?
China or abroad. It is equal to Christmas, birthday, and holiday, all rolled up in one. Such being the case, New Year's cannot be celebrated in one day.
Indeed, we Chinese in North America should take a week to a fortnight, to complete the big celebration. In Asia it is a 15 day celebration.
In homes, people start months before the day, ordering Chinese groceries from Hong Kong and Chinatown. The staples consist mostly of dried commodities or canned goods, including dried mushrooms, squid, shrimp, birds' nest, canned abalone, lichee nuts, bottled oyster sauce, and sesame seed oil. All are distinctly oriental and exotic.
Then mothers begin their big housecleaning. All the windows must be cleaned till the panes gleam. Every curtain is washed, starched and pressed, then rehung looking as frothy as new. The oak floors are scrubbed and waxed so smooth and slippery that the children slide on them when no adult is near enough to object. All the closets, drawers, shelves and seldom-looked-into places are taken apart, scoured and relined with fresh white paper, where needed. The household god will not overlook one place in the house, no matter how obscure, and neither will Mother.
Father is far from idle. Being a well respected citizen of the Chinese community we live in, he begins early to go over his books. To all who owe him money, he sends out notices of payment due. He must also find some way to repay his debts, no matter how difficult. Every reputable Chinese starts the New Year with a clean slate.
The older girls sew gay new garments for themselves and shop for the younger children, while young boys practice the dragon dance. The dragon is an imaginary head of a beast that is both gorgeous and terrifying, with artificial eyes that are as big and shiny as large flash lights. The opened mouth, large enough to swallow a man, is painted bright red with a flapping tongue. His body and tail consist of just a piece of soft material that is equally handsome studded with jewelry and brilliant Colors. Inside the hard shell of the skull is a boy dressed in gay, flashy colors to match this splendid creature. At the rear is another lad in identical costume. This couple will perform the dragon dance until they are relieved by a fresh pair. The older boys polish up on their jujitsu, a favorite pastime during the New Year's holiday. Other young men are indulging in an Eastern kind of fencing in which no one ever hurts his opponent. Some bachelors are rehearsing nightly for the various operas performed only at this season. Those taking the female parts have to learn to sing in an unnatural falsetto.
A week ahead, the Chinese ladies get together in each other's houses and help prepare the many kinds of sweets and hors d'oeuvres for New Year's. All sizes, shapes, colors and tantalizing smells are conjured up in those hectic days. Everywhere and everything seem a hopeless hodgepodge. But every year, very mysteriously, order reigns once more on the Day.
How to Order Chinese Food from a Chinese Restaurant
On New Year's Eve the long anticipated fun begins. All females retire to the kitchen. Incense burns on a table against a wall. Also on this table are platters of grapefruits, oranges, tangerines and kumquats in pyramid style. Little potted orange trees decorate the home the way wreaths are displayed at Christmas time. Appropriately, orange blossoms signify fruitfulness and abundance for the New Year. On the center of the table is a lazy susan laden with tidbits and delicacies. Red scrolls painted in jet black ink with propitious sayings in my father's best calligraphy hang on the wall. One by one, we kneel and with bowed heads and closed palms do honor to the kitchen god for another year.
The men and boys are off to their vegetarian dinner in the various clan societies. Only males are allowed at these affairs. On entering, the members go immediately before an altar. At center hangs a painting of Confucius surrounded by beautiful poetry embroidered in silk cloth. Beneath the painting is a table piled with bowls of citrus fruits and burning joss sticks. Each individual kowtows three times before this august image. In paying homage to Confucius one is symbolically paying respect to all the ancestors too. No meat is allowed on this one occasion, but that does not prevent the Chinese from eating one vegetable dish molded into the form of a lifelike chicken.
At midnight, from everywhere, firecrackers sputter with alacrity. Then the dragon dance begins. Teen aged youths dressed in colorful costumes of red, green, and gold get under a make-believe dragon. They turn, twist, writhe, shake, and jump under this animal. The dragon will flap its wide, wide mouth and bare two sharp fangs. Its glass eyes beam like headlights. Thus this ferocious serpent parades throughout the town accompanied by loud drums and cymbals. It stops at each store to wolf down a head of lettuce (dollar bills) tied on a pole above the door. (This money goes for charity.) Adolescents light the way with pretty paper lanterns.
The procession stops at the Chinese Chamber of Commerce Building. With a final barrage of fireworks from the Mayor, the dragon gives a great leap, bows and flees into his lair up in the municipal building. Few adults retire. Many men stay up all night without sleep, playing cards and making merry. The women are busy with last-minute preparations.
In the morning the children are up with the sun. Everyone has taken a bath, cut and washed his hair the day before, so all one needs to do this day is to put on smart new clothes from head to toe. The girls wear their most stunning costumes.
Before breakfast the children of the family line up to wish father and mother a happy new year. In return the parents give each child his first red envelope for the New Year, usually containing two coins. Two pieces arc necessary because the Chinese believe everything good must come in twos, though it is not important that they are identical. Thus, the Chinese character for 'good' consists of a girl and boy together. If you want to give paper money... this is ok in a single bill.
Around 9 o'clock the children go in groups to every store in the Chinese district to wish every proprietor a prosperous New Year. In each case they are rewarded with more tiny packages Of lucky money and oranges.
After lunch every one goes out. The housewives call on each other briefly and exchange presents of steamed pastries, "Diem Sum" (delicacies that touch the heart) and fruits. All the men go to their own family clubs to see old relatives and friends. There they chew watermelon seeds, drink pale Chinese tea, gossip, and gamble. The children are seen everywhere, playing in their fine clothes.
Dinner on New Year's Day is a family feast within the immediate family and friends. Every family has its own special recipes. Some families do not and pot luck is often the venue which makes the menu interesting. Our family's favorite hors d'oeuvre are deep fried crab legs, steamed mussels, deep friend calamari and barbequed pork. Then different chicken dishes are served. Every family serves the simple white-cut chicken with oyster sauce, birds' nest soup intact in a chicken, squab, fried lobster in the shell, cold abalone, honey-glazed duck, crisp skinned chicken, vermicelli, octopus, seaweed soup, snow pea vegetable, sea cucumber, and many other indescribable dishes followed by pots of "Oulong" Tea.
A typical food table
with lots and lots of varieties of food
Some New Year's Day Menu Suggestions
Bird's Nest Soup
Deep Fried Crab Legs , Calamari , Chicken Wings
Roast Barbeque Pork
Roast Barbeque Duck or Goose
Yangchow Fried Rice
Sweet and Sour Fish
Beef and Cauliflower
Steamed White Chicken with Oyster Sauce
Salt Roasted Chicken
Stir Fried Shrimp and Asparagus
Steamed Fish with Black Bean Sauce
Cantonese Lobster and Crab
Steamed Guy Lon with Oyster Sauce
Rice Noodles with stir fried pork, shrimp and bean sprouts
Plates of Fruit
Bananas, Oranges, Apples, Pears, Lichees
Almond cookies, egg tarts, steamed almond sponge cake, fresh fruit salad
After the meal some men will usually play the finger challenge. It's more or less an odd and even game. The loser has to down more "Ng Ga Pei" (pronounced eng gar pay), a very potent rice spirit, every time he shoots out the wrong number of fingers. This noisy game keeps up till one player becomes incapacitated.
Record lots of family images like these
I would love to see your Chinese New Year family pic
Just send it to me via e-Mail and I might find somewhere
on this page to post it.
In the evening nearly everyone goes to the theatre or watch movies. Sometimes, the theatre company is a local one and should be supported if there is none, then everyone goes to the movies or rent videos to be watched by everyone. The entertainment is not the important thing, what is important is that family and friends are together. .
With excepts from "Chinese Cooking Made Easy" - Isabelle C. Chang
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