Spring Festival 春节
There are many Chinese festivals in a year… Dumpling (Dragon Boat), Mooncake (Mid-autumn Festival), Hungry Ghost and Winter Solstice are some of the popular ones but to the Chinese communities all over the world, Spring Festival (春节) or more commonly known as Chinese Lunar New Year, is the most significant festival and important annual event. This year, the first day of Chinese New Year (CNY) will be celebrated on Sunday, 10th February 2013, and lasting as long as 15 days, until Sunday, 24th February 2013 Yuan Xiao Jie 元宵节 ( also known as 十五晚 – Chap Goh Mei) in accordance with the Chinese Lunar Calendar (Agrarian – 华人农历新年).
To the Chinese communities all over the world, 春节 is the biggest and longest annual event, where families would “spring clean” their homes thoroughly, which is symbolic of sweeping away bad luck from the previous year thus creating room for good luck in the coming year. Auspicious decorations of all sorts like calligraphed CNY poetry known as couplets, ornamental gold ingots, even fruits and plants that bear propitious names, are placed around the newly cleaned home. In the same spirit, new set of clothes (including underwears) and shoes to be worn on CNY are purchased and haircuts (hair signifies woes or worries) are taken care of. In our household, the lights at four corners of our home are left on until the sun rises – we do this so that 财神爺 – God of Fortune, can easily find our house
Chinese New Year’s Eve is a day where Chinese families gather for their annual Reunion Dinner and is known as Chuxi (除夕), literally “remove evening”. Young married couples may have this dinner twice (once at each spousal’s family) but attendance priority goes to the husband’s side. If you tune into world news on China, you will see public transportation heavily booked as the Chinese ride or fly home to attend this very significant dinner and festival. Friends and relatives will visit each other during the 15 days of celebration armed with mandarin oranges and “ang pao” (red packets containing money). All elderly and married persons are expected to give an ang pao to children and young or non-married adults as a gesture for good luck. On the first morning of CNY, breakfast is fried Nian Gao (年糕) and Longan Tea, again for prosperous symbolism.
The Chinese Zodiac (生肖) refers to every Chinese Lunar Calendar year attached to an animal based on a 12-year cycle. It is a very popular horoscope system used informally in many Asian countries, including China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and Japan. Many used it for match making and business purposes. And starting (from the Gregorian Calendar) February 10, 2013 — January 30, 2014, this will be the year of Snake.
In Singapore, Chinatown is the main attraction for CNY shoppers in the few weeks leading up to the eve of CNY. In fact, it is a 2-month long celebration. Some lanes are designated for night market vendors (as many as 500 stalls) selling CNY goodies. Mandarin oranges, bah kwa, CNY confectionery and beautiful new year ornaments are being sold weeks before the festival. Local and foreign visitors can immerse themselves in the entire Chinese cultural experience, soak in and enjoy the festive hustle and bustle simply by walking the streets of Chinatown. You’ll most likely spot lion and dragon dance performances during this time of the year.
During the 15 days of CNY, one can expect a lot of eating. One of the must have item especially among the business community (company CNY celebration lunch) is the Yu Sheng dish or Lou Hei (撈起). This is usually eaten on the 7th day (人日) of CNY (but nowadays people are eating it even before CNY) in a restaurant where the waiting staff are trained to chant well wishes (吉祥话) when offering this very auspicious and special dish on the table.
The base ingredients (julienned radish and carrots, etc…) are first served. The head of family/employer or the restaurant server proceeds to add the other ingredients such as the fish (used to be cheap fish but nowadays you can have salmon, abalone or lobster), the crackers and the sauces while saying “auspicious wishes” as each ingredient is added, typically related to the specific ingredient being added. Phrases such as Nian Nian You Yu (年年有余) are uttered as the fish is added, since the word Yu (余) means “surplus” or “abundance”, using it as a pun for the Chinese word 鱼(Yu – fish). All the other diners then proceed to toss the shredded ingredients into the air with chopsticks while saying various “auspicious wishes” like 發呀! (prosper!) out loud, or simply “lou hei, lou hei” (撈起, 撈起). It is believed that the height of the toss reflects the height of the diner’s growth in fortunes, thus diners are expected to toss enthusiastically. Some of us even bring the chopsticks above our heads before releasing the shreds of salad in order to “get” as much fortune as we can. This can be a messy dining experience, indeed, but nobody minds.
When putting the Yu Sheng on the table, the leader or serving staff offers New Year greetings:
恭喜发财 (Gong Xi Fa Cai) meaning “Congratulations for your wealth” 万事如意 (Wan Shi Ru Yi) meaning “May all your wishes be fulfilled”.
The raw fish is added, symbolising abundance and excess through the year. 年年有余 (Nian Nian You Yu) meaning “Abundance through the year”, as the word “fish” in Mandarin also sounds like “Abundance”.
The pomelo or lime is added to the fish, adding luck and auspicious value. 大吉大利 (Da Ji Da Li) meaning “Good luck and smooth sailing”.
Pepper is then dashed over in the hope of attracting more money and valuables. 招财进宝 (Zhao Cai Jin Bao) meaning “Attract wealth and treasures”.
Then oil is poured out, circling the ingredients and encouraging money to flow in from all directions. 一本万利 (Yi Ben Wan Li) meaning “Make 10,000 times of profit with your capital” 财源广进 (Cai Yuan Guang Jin) meaning “Numerous sources of wealth”.
Carrots are added indicating blessings of good luck. 鸿运当头 (Hong Yun Dang Tou) meaning “Good luck is approaching”. Carrot (红萝卜) is used as the first character 鸿 also sound like the Chinese character for red.
Then the shredded green radish is placed symbolising eternal youth. 青春常驻 (Qing Chun Chang Zhu) meaning “Forever young”. Green radish is used as the first character 青 also sound like the Chinese character for green.
After which the shredded white radish is added – prosperity in business and promotion at work. 风生水起 (Feng Sheng Shui Qi) meaning “Progress at a fast pace” 步步高升 (Bu Bu Gao Sheng) meaning “Reaching higher level with each step”.
The condiments are finally added:
First, peanut crumbs are dusted on the dish, symbolizing a household filled with gold and silver. 金银满屋 (Jin Yin Man Wu) meaning “Household filled with gold and silver”.
Sesame seeds quickly follow symbolising a flourishing business. 生意兴隆 (Sheng Yi Xing Long) meaning “Prosperity for the business”.
Deep-fried flour crisps in the shape of golden pillows is then added with wishes that literally means the whole floor would be filled with gold. 满地黄金 (Man Di Huang Jin) meaning “Floor full of gold”.
Info on Yu Sheng: Wikipedia
I hereby wish all the Chinese 新年快乐! 恭喜发财, 万事如意!
Have a great weekend everyone