Happy New Year folks!!
Valentine’s Day is not the only day when the town is dressed in red decorations! If you’ve been to Chinatown recently, you would be greeted by a sea of beautiful red lanterns lining the streets in readiness for Chinese New Year (or CNY) also known as Lunar New Year to be politically correct! But who wants to be political here?! As far as annual holidays and festivities are concerned, the Chinese New Year is the most significant festive season for me. Undoubtedly it is because of my heritage and culture. This is the equivalent of Christmas in Western culture. Certainly, a time for all the family members to come together and reunite to celebrate the new year. Unfortunately, this year we are unable to go back to Australia or Beijing to spend it with family. So I am dedicating this post to reminiscing about what celebrating Chinese New Year is all about when I was growing up.
Not only does it involve sumptuous feasts and delicious food, but there are also many traditional rituals and customs that take place as part of the festivities and celebrations. Since the Chinese are all about auspicious colloquial, positive omans and good feng shui, it is very important the rituals are followed to ensure that the new year will bring good fortune and prosperities to the household. Have I also mentioned that we are pretty superstitious?!
Just like Christmas, there is a list of to-do’s and a series of activities that need to take place in the lead-up to the new year such as shopping for food, stocking up on trinkets, lanterns and red banners to decorate the house, preparing auspicious gifts for visiting guests (usually in the form of fruits or sweets), nibblies and sweets for the house… and the list goes on…
However, the most important activity in the lead-up is a top-down-bottom-up spring cleaning of the house. Needless to say, this is my least favourite part! When I say top-down-bottom-up cleaning, I really mean stripping the house clean. From sweeping to mopping to scrubbing the windows, washing the curtains, to tidying up and getting rid of unused items!
There is a reason for this… and no, it’s not because we don’t clean our house throughout the year! It is because this symbolises “sweeping away” and “ridding off” all the bad luck or unwanted encounters from the past year to make room for new luck & good fortunes to enter.
New Year’s Eve
After spring cleaning, we need to start preparing for the most important meal of the year, which is the New Year’s Eve Reunion Dinner.
This is seriously my favourite meal of the year! The whole dining table is spread with a plethora of sumptuous dishes with carefully selected ingredients to represent auspicious beginnings and prosperity. As I said, Chinese is all about colloquial sentiments.
Just to give you an example (as there are too many for me to go through here), a Reunion Dinner menu would not be complete with a fish dish name “年年有餘” (“Nina Nina you yu”) because the word “yu” also sounds like “surplus/profit” in Chinese. So the sentiments of this dish are bringing wealth into the new year! If only it was that easy!
Of course, the Reunion Dinner is not all about food. It wouldn’t be a reunion dinner without the reunion of all the family members – just like our Christmas dinner. So everyone near or far is expected to travel home for this meal.
I always look forward to this meal because some of my favourite dishes require a lot of effort to make and this is the only time mum would cook them! So I am so sad to be missing out. But do not despair, we will certainly have our version of reunion dinner – the first one is with A and the second one is with our Aussie-living-in-London-away-from-family friends.
New Year’s Day
New Year’s Day is all about getting dressed up (ideally in brand new clothes), looking glammed up and ready to visit extended families and closed friends to wish them a happy new year, “拜年” (bai nian).
I loved this as a kid because we would get a red packet filled with cash from all the adults, only if you are married though. So all the single people out there… It is not so bad being single after all… 😉
Then we would head into town where firecrackers bursts through Melbourne Chinatown. The streets were covered in a bed of red confetti from the firecracker. Followed by a series of Lion dances gracing the streets with their annual performance, impressing us with newly learnt acrobatic moves. Crowds cheer them on, pushing and squeezing through to get to the front so they can stroke the lion’s head for good luck. Kids were found either laughing and clapping with excitement or crying and hiding behind their mum’s cuddle in fear! Poor things!
I am pleased to say that CNY traditions are not lost in London. This Sunday, there will be a CNY parade with colourful floats starting from Charing Cross to Chinatown. There is also a Lion and Dragon Dance performance in Trafalgar Square. More details are here. I hope you will come and join me in the celebration!! 🙂
But for now, if you’d excuse me, I need to rush off to some serious spring cleaning action!