Thursday, February 21, 2008

15th and last day of the CNY

The day before is generally a full day for preparations to celebrate the Lantern Festival which is held on the next night.

Rice dumplings and sweet glutinous rice ball brewed in a soup is eaten on this particular day. Candles are lit outside houses to guide rebellious spirits home. This day is celebrated as the Lantern Festival, and families walk the street carrying lighted lanterns.

The fifteenth day also traditionally marks the end of the Chinese New Year festivities. The 15th day marks the first full moon of the Chinese New Year, and is known as Yuan Xiao Jie meaning "first night of the full moon". Another family reunion dinner is held with lanterns and oranges and marks the last dinner party for the Chinese New Year.

Taboos and Superstitions of Chinese New Year

House Cleaning
The entire house should be cleaned before New Year's Day. On New Year's Eve, all brooms, brushes, dusters, dust pans and other cleaning equipment are put away. Sweeping or dusting should not be done on New Year's Day for fear that good fortune will be swept away. After New Year's Day, the floors may be swept. Beginning at the door, the dust and rubbish are swept to the middle of the parlor, then placed in the corners and not taken or thrown out until the fifth day. At no time should the rubbish in the corners be trampled upon. In sweeping, there is a superstition that if you sweep the dirt out over the threshold, you will sweep one of the family’s spirits away. Also, to sweep the dust and dirt out of your house by the front entrance is to sweep away the good fortune of the family; it must always be swept inwards and then carried out, then no harm will follow. All dirt and rubbish must be taken out the back door.

Bringing In the New Year and Expelling the Old
Shooting off firecrackers on New Year's Eve is the Chinese way of sending out the old year and welcoming in the New Year. On the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, every door in the house, and even windows have to be open to allow the old year to go out and the new year to go in.

New Year Activities Set Precendent
All debts had to be paid by this time. Nothing should be lent on this day, as anyone who does so will be lending all the year. Back when tinder and flint were used, no one would lend them on this day or give a light to others. Death and dying are never mentioned and ghost stories are totally taboo. References to the past year are also avoided as everything should be turned toward the New Year and a new beginning. Everyone should refrain from using foul language and bad or unlucky words. Negative terms and the word "four" (Ssu) which sounds like the word for death, are not to be uttered. If you cry on New Year's Day you will cry all through the year. Therefore, children are tolerated and are not spanked, even though they are mischievous. (I would never had get away with that one for sure)

Personal Appearance and Cleanliness
On New Year's Day you are not suppose to wash your hair because it would mean you would have washed away good luck for the New Year. Red clothing is preferred during this festive occasion. Red is considered a bright, happy color, sure to bring the wearer a sunny and bright future. It is believed that appearance and attitude during New Year's sets the tone for the rest of the year. Children and unmarried friends, as well as close relatives are given Lai See, little red envelopes with crisp and new one dollar bills inserted for good fortune.

More New Year Superstitions
For those most superstitious, before leaving the house to call on others, the Almanac should be consulted to find the best time to leave the home and the direction which is most auspicious to head out. The first person one meets and the first words heard are significant as to what the fortunes would be for the entire year. It is a lucky sign to see or hear songbirds or red-colored birds or swallows. It is considered unlucky to greet anyone in their bedroom so that is why everyone, even the sick, should get dressed and sit in the living room. Do not use knives or scissors on New Year's Day as this may cut off fortune.

While many Chinese people today may not believe in these do's and don'ts, these traditions and customs are still practiced. These traditions and customs are kept because most families realize that it is these very traditions, whether believed or not, that provide continuity with the past and provide the family with an identity, the Chinese identity.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

9th day of the CNY

The ninth day of the New Year is a day to offer prayers to the Jade Emperor of Heaven. This day is traditionally the birthday of the Jade Emperor and is especially important to Hokkiens and Teochews. At the stroke of midnight on the eighth day of the Chinese New Year, Hokkiens will offer thanks giving prayers to the Emperor of Heaven. Offerings will include sugarcane as it was the sugarcane that had protected the Hokkiens from certain extermination generations ago. Tea is served as a customary protocol for paying respect to an honored person as well.

The Birthday of the Jade Emperor falls on the ninth day. The Jade Emperor is also known as the Yu Huang Ta Ti, identified as the God of Heaven by the majority of Chinese. He is said to have been born several millennia before our era as the offspring of the king and queen of the kingdom. The people of Chuanchou observed the ninth day of the first moon as the birthday of Heaven whilst the people of Amoy observed the same day as the birthday of Yu Huang.

The 10th to the 12th days are seen as good days also to host friends and relatives for dinner.

By the 1860’s, the Chinese who came to share a bit of the California Gold Rush were eager to share their culture with those who were unfamiliar with it. They chose to showcase their culture by using a favorite American tradition — the Parade. Nothing like it had ever been done in their native China. They invited a variety of other groups from the city to participate, and they marched down what today are Grant Avenue and Kearny Street carrying colorful flags, banners, lanterns, and drums and firecrackers to drive away evil spirits. Today, Chinese New Year parades are annual traditions across North America and other part of the world.

In Singapore, The Chinese New Year Parade is called Chingay, and was held the 16th of February around City Hall MRT station, and has some origin from Penang, Malaysia. During over 4 hours, floats, and costumed actors went over the streets of Singapore and stopped at different places along the tour for a quick and choreograph spectacle. Among the 15+ floats that were announced, I barely viewed the Lions Dance crowd, the Dark Vador, The Miss Singapore and another local band from the local university. The one that I whish I had been closer to be delighted for its colors were the Chinese traditional dancing close second to the Indian stick dance. My camera could not pass the many body layers that separate me from the show, and could only capture occasional colors with sporadic lights.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

7th day of the CNY

Considered to be the most prosperous of all the 15 days of the Chinese New Year, the seventh day, traditionally known as Ren Ri (the Birthday of Man, Day of Man or Man Day, the Day of Humanity) or Yan-Yat (Everyman's Birthday) is considered the day when everyone grows one year older. In early times, on Everyman's Birthday, the urban Chinese based their forecast of the country's condition for the year on the day's weather.

Customs in celebrating this day vary from place to place. For example, Chinese followers of Buddhism also avoid meat on this day. The people from the Fukien province are fond of preparing a special soup with seven health-promoting ingredients to counteract ill-health while those in Chekiang eat Peace Dumplings to bring peace to the country.

In Singapore and Malaysia, Yu Sheng or "raw fish" dish is served instead. People get together to toss the colorful salad and make wishes for continued wealth and prosperity. The belief is that the higher the salad is tossed in the air, the more good fortune can be expected. Long noodles are also eaten to symbolize longevity.

It is believed that Yu Sheng has its origins in southern part of China. Legend has it that a young man and his girlfriend found themselves stranded by bad weather at a temple with nothing to eat but a carp they had caught. Chancing upon a bottle of vinegar, they added this to the stripped carp and found it quite appetizing. Local chefs in Singapore are credited for developing Yu Sheng as we know it today. They named the dish "Lucky Raw Fish" and popularized it as a Chinese New Year delicacy.

Arranged on a large serving plate, the colorful array of ingredients include raw fish, shredded green and white radish, shredded carrots, pickled ginger, crushed nuts and Pomelo. The ingredients are topped with various condiments including deep-fried flour crisps, crushed peanuts, sesame seeds, cinnamon, pepper and other spices.

All at the table would then jointly toss the salad with a generous portion of plum sauce and cooking oil to add sweetness and taste.

Rituals and Meanings
Yu Sheng plays on the homonyms where Yu means "fish" but enunciated appropriately, it also means "abundance"; and Sheng means literally "raw" but enunciated appropriately, it means "life". Thus Yu Sheng implies "abundance of wealth and long life". In Cantonese it is known as Lo Sheng with Lo also meaning "tossing up good fortune". The tossing action is called Lo Hei, which means to "rise" (Hei), again a reference to a thriving business and thus its popularity with businessmen during the Chinese New Year.

All the different parts of the salad are brought to the table in separate plates, and been mixed in front of you, in a certain order and with some greetings.

Here is the recipe for you to do at home

  • Step 1: People are all at the table and offer Chinese New Year greetings.
    Words: Gong Xi Fa Cai (Congratulations for your wealth) or Wan Shi Ru Yi (May all your wishes be fulfilled).

  • Step 2: In the salad, add the Fish, symbolizing abundance or excess through the year, is added.
    Words: Nian Nian You Yu ("Nian Nian You Yu" means "there's some fish every year", but fish in Chinese (Yu) shares the same sound with the word 'extra' or 'leftover'; so the true meaning serving the dish really is: "there is some (fish) leftover from the previous year, every year") and You Yu You Sheng (Don’t know the translation).

  • Step 3: The pomelo is added over the fish, adding both luck and auspicious value.
    Words: Da Ji Da Li (to be auspicious; a wish for favorable circumstances).

  • Step 4: Pepper is then dashed over the ingredients in the hope of attracting more money and valuables.
    Words: Zhao Cai Jin Bao (usher the good fortune for the new year).

  • Step 5: Then oil is poured out, circling the ingredients to increase all profits 10,000 times and encouraging money to flow in from all directions
    Words: Yi Ben Wan Li (for a flourishing business) and Cai Yuan Guang Jin (money keeps rolling in).

  • Step 6: Carrots are added to the fish indicating blessings of good luck.
    Words: Hong Yun Dang Tou (Good luck upon your head).

  • Step 7: Then the shredded green radish is placed on the fish symbolizing eternal youth.
    Words: Qing Chun Chang Zhu (Eternal youth, or full of youthful vigor).

  • Step 8: After which the shredded white radish is added - prosperity in business and promotion at work.
    Words: Feng Sheng Shui Qi (prosperity in business) and Bu Bu Gao Sheng (Makes Steady Progress, a wish for progress in their career).

  • Step 9: The condiments are finally added. First, peanut crumbs are dusted on the dish symbolizing a household filled with gold and silver. As an icon of longevity, peanuts also symbolize eternal youth.
    Words: Jin Yin Man Wu (to obtain abundant wealth for the household).

  • Step 10: Sesame seeds quickly follow symbolizing a flourishing business.
    Words: Sheng Yi Xing Long (one more time, for good business).

  • Step 11: Deep-fried flour crisps in the shape of golden pillows is then added with wishes that literally the whole floor would be filled with gold.
    Words: Pian Di Huang Jin (May gold pile at your feet).

  • Step 12: All toss the salad an auspicious 7 times with loud shouts of Lo Hei and other auspicious New Year wishes.
    Words: Lo Hei which is Cantonese for "tossing luck".

The ingredients mixed by pushing them toward the centre, an encouragement to push on the good luck of all at the table.

In early Singapore, restaurants in Chinatown would deliver Yu Sheng direct to customers. Their delivery assistants would balance the ingredients on a wooden tray placed on their heads. One serving would be placed on a pedestal dish and it would be covered with a conical tin, with the condiments wrapped like a red envelope or red packet. Young children were not encouraged to consume it as it was thought to trigger epilepsy. The dish was popular with the Cantonese, although the Teochews ate a simpler version where raw fish is dipped in sweet sauce.

Today, in more innovative and more expensive versions, salmon is used or is replaced with lobster and abalone. The vegetables include odd additions like the kiwi fruit, its jade-like green a symbol of prosperity. Various versions are also served at restaurants from Japanese Yu Sheng which have thick slices of sashimi to even Italian Yu Sheng which have Lasagna instead of noodles!

Monday, February 11, 2008

5th day of the CNY

The fifth day of the Chinese New Year is called Po Woo.

On this day people stay home to welcome the God of Wealth. It is also believed to be an auspicious day for reopening of businesses.

In northern China, people eat dumplings “Jiaozi” on the morning of Po Woo. This is also the birthday of the Chinese god of wealth. In Taiwan, businesses traditionally re-open on this day, accompanied by firecrackers.

This day is also known as the Hokkien New year. On this day in the past, the Hokkiens tied sugar cane poles to their front doors. The story goes that when Northern barbarians invaded the Hokkiens, the civilians fled for protection into the sugar cane fields. They hid there for many weeks, surviving on sugar cane juice and when it was finally safe to emerge, they realized they had missed the first day of New Year. As a result they celebrated their New Year late, honoring their lucky escape by tying sugar canes to their front doors.

On the sixth to the tenth day, the Chinese visit their relatives and friends freely. They also visit temples to pray for good fortune and health.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

3rd and 4th days of the CNY

The third day of the Chinese New Year is a day of rest otherwise known as the "loyal dog day".

The third and fourth day of the Chinese New Year are usually considered inappropriate days to visit relatives. Known as "Chi Kou", the Chinese believe that it is a day when arguments happen easily. It is suggested that the cause could be the fried food and visiting during the first two days of the New Year celebration. Smart thinking to get rid of the family business!

Families with an immediate kin who passed away in the past 3 years will not go visiting the homes of others, as a sign of respect to the dead. The third day of the New Year is dedicated to visiting the grave of the deceased relative instead. This may have led some people conclude that it is inauspicious to do any house visiting at all on this day.

Neither visits are made nor visitors received as it is also believed that evil spirits roam the earth this day and it would invite bad luck to be outdoors. Thus conservative Chinese businesses do not open until after the fifth day.

Every kitchen has a Kitchen God, usually posted near the stove, as a red paper banner with Kitchen God symbols written on it. In front of Kitchen God there is usually an incense burner and a pair of candle stick holders. People burn the incense and candles everyday to pray for protection, or at least burn the incense and candles on the 1st and 15th of each month.

Kitchen God protects the kitchen from fire, disaster, and all kinds of unwanted trouble. Once a year, on the 24th day of the 12th lunar month, families serve Kitchen God a feast of cooked chicken (which must include head and feet), roast pork, mixed vegetables, rice and more, to thank Kitchen God for the kind protection of the year. Generally a table is set in front of Kitchen God, and the food is left on the table for a few hours, then later on removed

One week before New Year's, Kitchen God is dispatched to make his report to the Heavens. He is ceremoniously burned. His spirit travels upwards within the smoke to the Jade Emperor in Heaven, where it is hoped that he will speak sweet words about the family in his charge.

His lips are smeared with honey or other sweet substance. The layer of sweet sticky maltose candy or even Nian Gao is applied over the lips of his idol. This cunning device aims to “stick” the Kitchen God’s mouth shut to prevent him from bad mouthing the family before the King of Heaven. The sweet candy also served the dual purpose of “sweetening” his tongue should the first method fail.

On the fourth day, the “Kitchen God” is welcomed back into the household. This important divine being has returned from his yearly sojourn to Heaven, where he has reported the misdeeds of the family. He is received back with suitable aplomb and offerings.

Friday, February 08, 2008

2nd day of the CNY

On the second day of Chinese New Year, the Chinese pray to their ancestors as well as to all the gods.

On this day deceased relatives and ancestors are remembered, and prayers and food are both offered in generous amounts. They are extra kind to dogs and feed them well as it is believed that the second day is the birthday of all dogs.

This is one of the least favored days of the Chinese New Year. It is unlucky to open for business on this day – if you do you risk bad fortune befalling your business.

Although business people of the Cantonese dialect group will hold a 'Hoi Nin' prayer to start their business on the 2nd day of Chinese New Year. The prayer is done to pray that they'll be blessed with good luck and prosperity in their business for the year.

During this period, the God of Wealth is welcomed. It is also known as Thoa Ya, the best "feast" days for employees. To employees, this day is not only a sumptuous feast but a bonus for their hard work during the year, but also it is a reward for a year of work, the bonuses are to make workers happy in the New Year as grim faces are a taboo during the festival.

The second day of the Chinese New Year is for married daughters to visit their maiden home and renew ties with their family. Traditionally, daughters who have been married may not have the opportunity to visit their birth families frequently.

It is considered bad luck and disrespectful for men if their wives visit her parents on the first day of the New Year as this would give the impression that she could not wait to “run back” to her parents.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

1st day of the CNY

The first day of the Chinese New Year is known as Yuan Dan.

The first day is for welcoming the deities of the heavens and earth. It is a day for offerings to ancestors are shared among members of the family. This ceremony is normally held in the home of an elder member of the family.

During these visits, married adults are required to give red packets to junior members of the family, mostly children and teenagers as a form of blessing. Exchanging of mandarin oranges signify well-wishes for the New Year. Generally two or sometimes even number of oranges is presented at each visit.

Visiting your elders is a must on the first day of Chinese New Year, but children have an excuse to devour traditional New Year goodies such as the sweet sticky “Nian Gao”, which is believed to help children grow taller as its name is similar in sound as the Chinese word for tall.

It is also an auspicious day for family portraits.

Many people, especially Buddhists, abstain from meat consumption on the first day because it is believed that this will ensure longevity for them. Some consider lighting fires and using knives to be bad luck on New Year's Day, so all food to be consumed is cooked the day before.

Most importantly, the first day of Chinese New Year is a time when families visit the oldest and most senior members of their extended family, usually their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents on the paternal side.

Some families invite lion dance troupes as a symbolic ritual to usher in the Lunar New Year. The lion dance is also believed to evict bad spirits from the premises.

One of the big No-No during the first day of Chinese New Year is sweeping the floor. Woe betides the reckless that ignore this rule as they will “sweep” away all their good fortune for the year. Other forbidden practices include arguing, swearing or scolding.

Breaking plates or bowls is also considered bad fortune but if an accident should occur, you can ward off bad luck by quickly shouting “Luo Di Kai Hua” which loosely translated means “flower on the floor”, symbolizing bearing fruit.

Everybody wears new clothes on the first day, from the latest Italian shoes to those pyjamas you bought at the discount store; carefully stored new garments purchased the previous year are taken out today. Red is always in fashion at this time of the year and black is conscientiously minimized or avoided altogether as it is the color of mourning.

Firecrackers are used to drive away the evil demon “Nian”. A popular folk tale has it that this monster would rise at this time of the year and terrorize the people, leaving death and famine in his wake. The great flash of fire and explosions terrified the monster, which then fled. The widespread use of firecrackers and red decorations is to simulate the fire and exploding bamboo poles.

While fireworks and firecrackers are traditionally very popular, some regions have banned them due to concerns over fire hazards, which have resulted in increased number of fires around New Years and challenged municipal fire departments' work capacity.

For this reason, various city governments issued bans over fireworks and firecrackers in certain parts of the city. As a substitute, large-scale fireworks have been launched by governments in cities to offer citizens the experience of scaring away the demon.

Good and Bad Luck

A Chinese proverb states that all creations are reborn on New Year's Day. The Chinese New Year is a celebration of change.

But some traditions must be told in order to be respected and here a compilation of what could be useful if you want to follow the Chinese New Year ceremonies.

Red Envelopes

Traditionally red envelopes or red packets or Lee See (literally, the money used to suppress or put down the evil spirit) are passed out during the Chinese New Year's celebrations, from married couples or the elderly to unmarried juniors.

You have to get new bills from the bank and insert the new bills into the red envelopes on New Year Eve’s. After this ceremony the red envelope is called a Lee See or lucky money envelope, and only at that time. You also have to give two Lee See to each child because happiness comes always in two, do not just give one.

This is the way of passing good luck from the old generation to the next generation. It also a common habit to have business owners to give Lee See to employees and associates.

Red envelopes always contain money, usually varying from a couple of dollars to several hundred. The amount of money in the red packets should be of even numbers, as odd numbers are associated with cash given during funerals. Since the number 4 is also considered bad luck, (mean death), money in the red envelopes never adds up to 4. However, the number 8 is considered lucky (mean wealth) and 8 is commonly found in the red envelopes.

Odd and even numbers are determined by the first digit, rather than the last. Thirty and fifty, for example, are odd numbers, and are thus appropriate as funeral cash gifts. Rather than 20 and 40 are consider true even numbers and could be given at New Year Eve’s. However, it is common and quite acceptable to have cash gifts in a red packet using a single bank note - with ten or fifty bills used frequently.

A married person would not turn down such request as it would mean that he or she would be "out of luck" in the coming New Year.

Good Luck

  • Open every door and window in your home at midnight to let go of the old year that will also bring in the good luck of the New Year at the same time.

  • Switching on the lights for the night is considered to bring good luck to 'scare away' ghosts and spirits of misfortune that may compromise the luck and fortune of the New Year.

  • Sweets are eaten to ensure the consumer a "sweet" year.

  • Clean the entire home from top to bottom to get rid of all the things that are associated with the old year before New Year's Day.

  • Some believe that what happens on the first day of the New Year reflects the rest of the year to come. Asians will often gamble at the beginning of the year, hoping to get luck and prosperity.

  • Wearing a new pair of slippers that is bought before the New Year, because it means to step on the people who gossip about you.

  • The night before the New Year, some say that if you take a bath with pomelo leaves you will be healthy for the rest of the year.

  • You have to settle down and pay all your debts.

  • Resolving differences with family members, friends, neighbors and business associates is an act of good luck before New Year's Eve.

  • On New Year's Eve put a new set of clothes and shoes for children, preferably something red or orange.

  • Greet others with "Gung Hey Fat Choy" which means "Wishing You Prosperity and Wealth" and not “Happy New Lunar Year”

Bad Luck

  • Washing your hair is also considered to be washing away one's own luck.

  • After cleaning the house for your New Year Eve’s, put away all brooms and brushes to avoid sweeping the good luck that might enter your new life on the first day

  • Buying a pair of shoes is considered bad luck amongst some Chinese for New Year Eve’s. The word "shoes" is a homophone for the word for "rough" in Cantonese, or "evil" in Mandarin.

  • Don’t greet people who are in mourning.

  • Don’t say the number ‘four’ (Chinese homonym for death) or mention death.

  • Don’t borrow or lend money.

  • Talking about death is inappropriate for the first few days of Chinese New Year, as it is considered inauspicious as well.

  • Buying books is bad luck because the word for "book" is a homonym to the word "lose".
    Avoid clothes in black and white, as black is a symbol of bad luck, and white is a traditional funeral color.

  • Don’t drop your chopsticks.

It’s a bit complex, but after few years, I am sure that you can figure it out what should be done and not …

Gung Hey Fat Choy! or
Gong Xi Fa Cai! or
Gong Hai Fat Choi!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Fortune Dinner

On New Year's Day, everyone had on new clothes, and would put on his best behavior. It is considered improper to tell a lie, raise one's voice, use indecent language, or break anything on the first day of the year.

At New Year Eve’s dinner, a vast amount of food is usually prepared for family and friends, near and far, as well as those who have died. The New Year's Eve dinner, a get together for celebration, is very large, and is exclusively based on several symbolisms. Food may have special significance because of its shape or because of the way the Chinese word for it sounds.

But let start with the … starters.


  • Pearl balls are frequently served at Chinese New Year celebrations. The round meatball signifies reunion, and this is traditionally a time for families to come together.

  • Egg rolls are a popular Chinese New Year food. They are thought to symbolize wealth, since the roll resembles a 10-ounce gold bar, and usually served with soy sauce or Chinese Hot Mustard for dipping.

  • In northern China, families spend the night before Chinese New Year preparing Jiaozi Dumplings, to enjoy after midnight. Usually served with Ginger Soy Dipping Sauce.

  • Clam Sycee originated in Shanghai, on the coast of eastern China, and is a popular New Year's dish. It symbolizes good fortune and prosperity, as the stuffed clams resemble the gold or silver bouillon originally used as money in China.

  • Spring rolls are made with a thinner wrapper than egg rolls. Choose from Cantonese Spring Rolls, Mini Spring Rolls, Spring Rolls With Barbecued Pork, Vegetable Spring Rolls. Spring Rolls symbolize wealth because their shape is similar to gold bars.

  • The Cantonese word for lettuce sounds like rising fortune, so it is common to serve lettuce wraps filled with other lucky food. To turn this into an even more symbolic dish, substitute dried oysters for the chicken meat (dried oyster sounds like the word for "good"). The Cantonese word for lettuce sounds like rising fortune, so it is very common to serve a lettuce wrap filled with other lucky food.

  • Yu Sheng, a salad of raw fish, is especially popular in Singapore and Malaysia and should be tossed for bringing good fortune to the house.

  • Potstickers, a sort of tasty dumplings, pan-fried on one side and steamed on the other, are perfect for Chinese New Year celebrations. Should be serve with Soy Sauce With Ginger, Hot Chili Oil or Dumpling Dipping Sauce

  • The Thousand Corner Shrimp Balls should include a dipping sauce, and this Shanghai appetizer is very easy to make.

  • The Salt and Pepper Shrimp dish makes an eye-catching appetizer or main course. The deep-fried shrimp shells turn a wonderful orange color, while the spicy seasoning adds extra flavor. The shells protect the shrimp meat during deep-frying, so that it tastes extra tender and juicy.

  • Ginkgo nut represents silver ingots. Visit an Asian bakery during the Chinese New Year, and you're likely to find a wide assortment of snacks with different types of seeds in them. The seed-filled treats represent bearing many children in Chinese culture.

  • The Chinese believe eggs symbolize fertility. After a baby is born, parents may hold a "red egg and ginger party," where they pass out hard boiled eggs to announce the birth. In some regions of China the number of eggs presented depends on the sex of the child: an even number for a girl, and an odd number if a boy has been born.

Main Dishes
  • A Chicken is symbol for prosperity and must be presented with a head, tail and feet to symbolize completeness. In Chinese culture, chicken forms part of the symbolism of the dragon and phoenix. At a Chinese wedding, chicken's feet (sometimes referred to as phoenix feet) are often served with dragon foods such as lobster. Chicken is very popular at Chinese New Year dinner, symbolizing a good marriage and the coming together of families.
  • Kung Pao Chicken, named after a court official, is a spicy Szechuan dish made with diced chicken, peanuts and chili peppers. Stir-fry Kung Pao Chicken - in this healthier version the chicken is stir-fried, reducing the calories.
  • The famous General Tso's Chicken dish, also named after a famous 19th century Chinese military leader, could be translated roughly into "ancestor meeting place chicken."
  • The White Cut Chicken is poached in rice wine until it turns white and garnished with scallions in this simple festive dish. White cut chicken is a popular New Years' dish as the white chicken symbolizes purity.
  • The Sesame Chicken is not an authentic Chinese dish, but one that is very popular during festive occasions. Chicken is deep-fried in batter, then finished in a tangy sweet and sour sauce and garnished with toasted sesame seeds.
  • The Cantonese Roast Duck is a duck with the shiny reddish skin that is frequently seen hanging in the windows of Cantonese restaurants.
  • The also famous Peking Duck dish consists of juicy slices of duck with a crispy skin, served with Mandarin pancakes and hoisin sauce. If you are ever invited to a Chinese wedding banquet, don't be surprised to spot a mouthwatering platter of Peking duck on the banquet table. Ducks represent fidelity in Chinese culture. Also, red dishes are featured at weddings as red is the color of happiness. You'll find them served at New Year's banquets for the same reason.
  • Sweet and Sour Pork is deep-fried in batter twice to make it extra crispy, then stir-fried with pork and pineapple in a sweet and sour sauce
  • The whole steamed Fish, symbol of long life and good fortune, is also included, but not eaten up completely and the remaining stored overnight. The Chinese say "every year there is fish/leftover" is a homophone for phrases which could be translated into "be blessed every year" or "have profit every year". A whole fish is half eaten to represent togetherness and abundance. In fact, at a banquet it is customary to serve the whole fish last, pointed toward the guest of honor. Fish also has symbolic significance because the Chinese word for fish, yu, sounds like the word for riches or abundance, and it is believed that eating fish will help your wishes come true in the year to come. Fish also play a large role in festive celebrations. The word for fish, "Yu," sounds like the words both for wish and abundance. As a result, on New Year's Eve it is customary to serve a fish at the end of the evening meal, symbolizing a wish for abundance in the coming year. For added symbolism, the fish is served whole, with head and tail attached, symbolizing a good beginning and ending for the coming year.
  • A type of black hair-like algae, pronounced "Fat Choy" in Cantonese, is also featured in many dishes since its name sounds similar to "prosperity".
  • Hakka is also served because the things sound alike, the belief is that having one will lead to the other, like the old child's aphorism "step on a crack, break your mother's back".
  • On that particular dinner, a Chinese family eats a vegetarian dish called "Jai". Although the various ingredients in jai are root vegetables or fibrous vegetables, many people attribute various superstitious aspects to them.
  • Noodles should be uncut as they represent long life. An old superstition says that it's bad luck to cut them. Noodles are a symbol of longevity in Chinese culture. They are as much a part of a Chinese birthday celebration as a birthday cake with lit candles is in many countries. Since noodles do symbolize long life, it is considered very unlucky to cut up a strand.
  • Clams are stir-fried in a savory mixture of black beans and ginger. In Chinese culture, clams symbolize prosperity because of their resemblance to Chinese coins.
  • Dried bean curd is another homonym for fulfillment of wealth and happiness.
  • Fresh bean curd or tofu is not included as it is white and unlucky for New Year as the color signifies death and misfortune.
  • Lobster Cantonese tails are cooked in a savory sauce flavored with Chinese black beans.
    Cantonese Shrimp With Lobster Sauce - there's actually no lobster in this dish at all. The dish gets its name from having the same sauce as Lobster Cantonese. Take-out Shrimp With "Lobster Sauce" - this is a take-out version of the popular dish, made with a white sauce.
  • Chinese garlic chives symbolize eternity.
  • Cone-shaped winter bamboo shoots are a symbol of wealth. Bamboo shoots is a term which sounds like “wishing that everything would be well”
  • Black moss seaweed is a homonym for exceeding in wealth.


  • The Sticky Cake (Nian Gao) is China's most famous cake, traditionally fed to the Chinese Kitchen God so he will report favorably on a family's behavior when he returns to heaven before the start of the New Year season. In Chinese culture, cakes symbolize togetherness and a rich life. Although it is literally translated as "Year Cake", nian gao is more like a sweet, stretchy, sticky pudding. It is made with glutinous rice powder, brown sugar and flavored with rose water or red beans. The batter is steamed until it solidifies and served in thick slices. The cake is filled with dried fruit and steamed. The Chinese word "nian" or "to stick" is similar in sound to "year", and the word "gao" or "cake" sounds similar to "high/tall." As such, eating "nian gao" is has the symbolism of raising oneself in each coming year, or "nian nian gao sheng."
  • In the north, steamed-wheat bread (Man Tou) and small meat dumplings were the preferred food. The tremendous amount of food prepared at this time was meant to symbolize abundance and wealth for the household.
  • Fa Gao, literally translated as "Prosperity Cake", is made with wheat flour, water, sugar and leavened with either yeast or baking powder. Fa gao batter is steamed until it rises and splits open at the top. The sound "fa" means either "to raise/generate" or "be prosperous", hence its well intending secondary meaning. Its sweetness symbolizes a rich, sweet life, while the layers symbolize rising abundance for the coming year. Finally, the round shape signifies family reunion.
  • Peking Dust is a fun, if filling, dessert, composed with fresh chestnuts, ground into fine pieces, representing the dust of the Mongolian dessert, and paired with whipped cream.
    The almond cookies have a light, delicate flavor that is not too overpowering, and is a must in the Chinese New Year Eve’s dinner.
  • The Sesame Seed Balls (Zeen Doy) are tasty balls of glutinous rice flour that filled with red bean paste and rolled in sesame seeds and fried. While sesame seed balls are available at Asian bakeries throughout the year, they are especially popular during the Chinese New Year season.
  • The Eight Precious Pudding is a famous banquet dessert, and some sort of a pudding, traditionally made with eight types of dried candied fruits to "treasures" such as happiness and a long life.
  • The Five-spice Peanuts symbolizes longevity in Chinese culture. In this easy recipe the peanuts are coated in a syrupy mixture with brown sugar, corn syrup and five-spice powder.
  • Sago tarts are made with lotus seeds. Lotus seeds are often given to married couples to wish them many children.
  • At any Chinese New Year celebration you'll see red everywhere, as the color red is a powerful symbol of happiness and joy in Chinese culture. Made with red beans, the popular Sweet Red Bean Soup is a sweet dessert soup and is perfect for Chinese New Year. Lotus seeds and dried tangerine peel give the soup an interesting variety of textures and flavor.
  • One of the most unusual Chinese desserts is the Sesame Seed Custard a fried custard made with toasted sesame seeds.
  • Tangerines and oranges are passed out freely during Chinese New Year as the words for tangerine and orange sound like luck and wealth, respectively.
  • As for Pomelos, this large ancestor of the grapefruit signifies abundance, as the Chinese word for pomelo sounds like the word for "to have."
  • Red Jujubes also called "Chinese Dates" are the symbol of prosperity.
  • Although they're actually an American creation, Fortune Cookies are a fun way to end a festive meal.

I wonder why, the next day New Year's Day lunch is typically a light vegetarian lunch.

Extreme Makeover

Prior to Chinese New Year, Chinese families spend a vast amount of time decorating their living rooms with vases of pretty blossoms, platters of oranges and tangerines and a candy tray with eight varieties of dried sweet fruit.

Usually on walls or doors one might find poetic couplets, happy wishes written on red paper. These messages, more tailored than the typical fortune cookie messages, try to engage the year in a positive and prosperous event, so be it "May you enjoy continuous good health" or "May the Star of Happiness, the Star of Wealth and the Star of Longevity shine on you."

Plants and Flowers
Chinese household should have live blooming plants to symbolize rebirth and new growth. Flowers are believed to be symbolic of wealth and high positions in one's career.

Lucky is the home with a plant that blooms on New Year's Day, for that foretells a year of prosperity. In more elaborate settings, plum blossoms just starting to bloom are arranged with bamboo and pine sprigs, the grouping symbolizing friendship.

The plum blossom also signifies reliability and perseverance.

The bamboo is known for its compatibility, its utility and its flexible stems for furniture and other articles. The evergreen pine evokes longevity and steadiness. Other highly prized flowers are the pussy willow, azalea, peony and water lily or narcissus.

Chinese believe that without flowers, there would be no formation of any fruits. They are the emblems of reawakening of nature; they are also intimately connected with superstition and with the wish for happiness during the ensuing year.

Oranges and Tangerines
Etiquette dictates that you must bring a bag of oranges and tangerines or at least an even number of them, and enclose a red envelope (lai see) when visiting family or friends anytime during the two-week long Chinese New Year celebration.

Tangerines with leaves intact assure that one's relationship with the other remains secure. For newlyweds, this represents the branching of the couple into a family with many children.

Oranges and tangerines are symbols for abundant happiness.

Candy Tray
The candy tray arranged in either a circle or octagon is called "The Tray of Togetherness".

After taking several pieces of candy from the tray, adults places a red envelope (lai see) on the center compartment of the tray. Each item represents some kind of good fortune.

  • Candied melon - growth and good health
  • Red melon seeds - dyed red to symbolize joy, happiness, truth and sincerity
  • Lychee nuts - strong family relationships
  • Kumquats - prosperity
  • Coconut - togetherness
  • Peanuts - long life
  • Longans - many good sons
  • Lotus seeds - many children

Who said that Home Makeover was simple and without framework?

Fly me to the (First) Moon

The 15 days celebration of the Chinese New Year will open this year, the year of the Rat, the first of the 12-year cycle of animals. Rat is associated with aggression, wealth, charm, and order, yet also associated with death, war, the occult, pestilence, and atrocities.

Of all the traditional Chinese festivals, the New Year Eves is the most colorful, elaborate and important day of the year. This is a time for the Chinese to congratulate each other and themselves on having passed through another year, a time to finish out the old, and to welcome in the new.

The Chinese New year is celebrated on the first day of the First Moon of the lunar calendar, and that is the reason why the date is changing every year, could varies from as early as January 21st to as late as February 19th. Chinese New Year signified turning over a new leaf.

Socially, it is the time for family reunions, and for visiting friends and relatives. This holiday, more than any other Chinese holiday, stressed the importance of family ties. The Chinese New year’s Eve dinner gathering is among the most important occasions of the year to have a family reunion.

The preparation of Chinese New Year can take as long as one month before starting the new festivities. The 20th of the Twelfth Moon is usually set aside for the annual housecleaning, or the “sweeping of the grounds”. Every corner of the house must be swept and cleaned in preparation for the new year.

Spring Couplets written in black ink on large vertical scrolls of red paper, are put on the walls or on the sides of the gate-ways. These couplets, short poems written in Classical Chinese, are expressions of good wishes for the family in the coming year.

In addition, symbolic flowers and fruits are used to decorate the house, and colorful pictures are placed on the walls. Some people give their homes, doors and window-panes a new coat of red paint. Purchasing new clothing, shoes and receiving a hair-cut also symbolize a fresh start.

After the house been cleaned it is time to bid farewell to the Kitchen God. In traditional China, the Kitchen God is regarded as the guardian of the family hearth. He is identified as the inventor of fire, which is necessary for cooking and is also the censor of household morals. By tradition, the Kitchen God left the house on the 23rd of the last month to report to heaven on the behavior of the family. At this time, the family did everything possible to obtain a favorable report from the Kitchen God. On the evening of the 23rd, the family would give the Kitchen God a ritualistic farewell dinner with sweet foods and honey. Some said this was a bribe, others said it sealed his mouth from saying bad thins.

Free from the every-watchful eyes of the Kitchen God, who was supposed to return on the first day of the New Year, the family now can prepare for the upcoming celebrations. In old China, stores closed shop on the last two or three days of the year and remained closed for the first week of the New Year. Consequently, families are busy in the last week of the old year stocking up on foods and gifts.

On the last day of the old year, everyone is busy either in preparing food for the next two days, or in going to the barbers and getting tidied up for the New Year’s Day. The night before the Chinese New Year if you take a bath in pomelo leaves, some say that you will be healthy for the rest of the year. Tradition stipulated that all food be pre-pared before the New Year’s Day, so that all sharp instruments, such as knives and scissors, could be put away to avoid cutting the “luck” of the New Year. The kitchen and well are not to be disturbed on the first day of the Year.

The New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day celebrations are strickly family affairs. All members of the family sould gather for the important family meal on the evening of the New year’s Eve. Even if a family member could not attend, an empty seat would be kept to symbolize that person’s presence at the banquet. At midnight following the banquet, the younger members of the family would bow and pay their respects to their parents and elders.

Happy “Gong Xi Fa Ca

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The 15-Day Celebration of Chinese New Year

The agenda is a bit complicated for non Sino-people, so after some search and more enquiries, here is a quick summary of the 15 days schedule for the coming Chinese New Year 2008, years of the Rat.

Feb 6

  • New Year Eve’s dinner and party

Feb 7

  • New Year Lunch (Vegetarian food only)
    The first day of the Lunar New Year is "the welcoming of the gods of the heavens and earth. Many people abstain from meat on the first day of the New Year because it is believed that this will ensure long and happy lives for them.

Feb 8

  • On the Second day, the Chinese pray to their ancestors as well as to all the gods. They are extra kind to dogs and feed them well as it is believed that the second day is the birthday of all dogs.

Feb 9-10

  • The third and fourth days are for the sons-in-laws to pay respect to their parents-in-law.

Feb 11

  • The fifth day is called Po Woo. On that day people stay home to welcome the God of Wealth. No one visits families and friends on the fifth day because it will bring both parties bad luck.

Feb 12-16

  • On the sixth to the 10th day, the Chinese visit their relatives and friends freely. They also visit the temples to pray for good fortune and health.

Feb 13

  • The seventh day of the New Year is the day for farmers to display their produce. These farmers make a drink from seven types of vegetables to celebrate the occasion. The seventh day is also considered the birthday of human beings. This is everyone's birthday, the day when everyone grows one year older. Noodles are eaten to promote longevity and raw fish for success.

Feb 14 (Valentines Day)

  • On the eighth day the Fujian people have another family reunion dinner, and at midnight they pray to Tian Gong, the God of Heaven.

Feb 15

  • The ninth day is to make offerings to the Jade Emperor.

Feb 16-18

  • The 10th through the 12th are days that friends and relatives should be invited for dinner.

Feb 19

  • After so much rich food, on the 13th day you should have simple rice congee and mustard greens (Choi Sum) to cleanse the system.

Feb 20-21

  • The 14th day should be for preparations to celebrate the Lantern Festival which is to be held on the 15th night.

I will try to guide you in the next posts towards the tradition of the Chinese New Year