Bring on the food
Timothy Hennessy, RHN, RNCP
Welcome Chinese New Year with some delicious recipes, and learn about some Chinese New Year traditions.
If you’ve been hearing the words, “Gung hay fat choy” recently, you’ll know that the Lunar New Year is approaching. You may also know that this festive time of year includes dancing lions, the colour red, and plenty of delicious food.
Chinese New Year, or as it is now known, Lunar New Year, is a centuries’ old celebration based on several myths and traditions.
When is the Lunar New Year?
Unlike the Gregorian calendar, which begins each year on January 1, the Lunar New Year is determined by the lunisolar Chinese calendar. The exact date varies each year because it is based on the lunar cycle that runs about 29.5 days. The 2011 Lunar New Year begins on February 3.
Why the dancing lions?
Ancient Chinese legends tell of a mythical beast called the Nien that attacked villages on the first day of the New Year, devouring livestock, crops, and even villagers, especially children. Initially, the villagers called upon the revered figure of the Lion to help protect them. The Lion attacked the Nien, wounded it, and chased it away.
The following year the Nien came again to the villagers, seeking revenge. Two brave men constructed a lion from cloth and bamboo and used it to frighten the beast away. From this legend evolved the Lion dance. Believed to bring luck and happiness, it is now a part of every Lunar New Year celebration.
Why the colour red?
The colour red features heavily in New Year celebrations. According to legend, one New Year’s Day the Nien fled upon seeing a small child dressed in red. The villagers assumed it was afraid of the colour red, and in the years to come, would hang red lanterns and scrolls from their homes at the New Year to keep the Nien at bay.
Why the food?
In following years the villagers would put offerings of food on their doorsteps, believing these would keep the Nien from attacking and eating them.
Oranges and citrus fruits are believed to resemble gold and will bring happiness and wealth. Noodles are served long and uncut to represent long life while fish are served whole as a sign of togetherness.
As you gather to celebrate with friends, and family you may wish to use these recipes to create your own feast and traditions. Reflect on all that you hold dear in your life, sweep out the old year, and welcome the new. Great fortune, good health, and prosperity to all!
Lunar New Year lore
Before the celebrations begin, attention is given to cleaning one’s house and clearing old debts. A New Year should never start with tears; or it is said that you will cry all year long. It is understood that how one starts the New Year will influence the rest of the year.
Elders present red envelopes containing good-luck money to children to ensure happiness and good fortune.
Many Asian cultures also pay tribute at year’s end to a figurine in their home that represents the Kitchen God, believing that its role is to inform the chief spirits about the family’s behaviour over the past year. To ensure it speaks sweet things about them, families will often spread honey or sticky rice on the Kitchen God’s lips.
Year of the Rabbit
People born between February 2, 2011 and January 22, 2012 will be said to be born in the Year of the Rabbit, the fourth animal in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac.
People born in the Year of the Rabbit are usually a bit reserved, well-mannered, and settled in their ways. They generally take care of the small details in life to create peace and comfort around themselves. When faced with situations they do not feel secure in, they may quietly retreat.
Rabbit people get along well with almost everyone with some exceptions: strong and challenging personalities such as those born under the sign of the Rooster are not a good match for the peace-loving Rabbit.