Despite it being more commonly known as Chinese New Year, it is also known as the Lunar New Year (Tet in Vietnam), and is in fact celebrated “officially” all around Asia. What this means is that it is an official public holiday in countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam, just to name a few, (and China, of course!). In Vietnam, it is called Tet.
The Lunar New Year, also known as The Spring Festival, marks the end of winter and falls on the first day of the first month of the Chinese calendar, and celebrations go on for 2 weeks. It of course follows the Lunar calendar and usually falls between the 3rd week of January and the 3rd week of February.
As many of you might already know, each year is given the attributes of an animal, which follows the Chinese Zodiac system. The Chinese believe that the animal that rules your birth year has a profound influence on your character and destiny. This, 2016 is the Year of the Red Monkey. Going back by 12 year cycles, 2004, 1992, and so forth, would also have been The Year of the Red Monkey.
As the red monkey is viewed as a clever animal, people who are born in this year are considered to be intelligent and wise, especially in their financial affairs. They are also thought to be innovative, flexible, kind and honest if perhaps a touch arrogant and quick to temper.
I am constantly amazed at the rich symbolism found in the Chinese culture that is still so evident in the 21st Century. I remember as a kid asking my friends if they really believed in “all that stuff” and the answer was a vehement yes. I think it’s wonderful! I know many cultures have their age old beliefs and traditions, I grew up with many (considering my multi cultural upbringing, I had more than my fair share!), but many of these customs and ideas get diluted over the years and end up having just a pedestrian role in people’s lives and festivities.
Growing up in Singapore, I was fortunate to have been able to celebrate and experience first hand many religious festivals, Chinese New Year is just one of the religious public holidays celebrated in Singapore, the others being Eid, Christmas and Deevali. It is steeped in rituals and traditions, a lot of it is about sweeping away the old and ushering in the new good fortune.
Here are some more examples:
Red and packets of money (Hong Bao) –Red is a predominant colour in Chinese tradition as it wards off evil spirits, hence all the red decorations that spout out luck, prosperity, good health, etc. on the morning of the New Year, children and unmarried adults also receive a Hong Bao, a red packet containing money, from their elders. This is of course, very similar to presents at Christmas, and money at Eid.
Dragon – symbolises prosperity & good fortune, on the 5th day, as part of the celebrations, you will find dragon dances being performed, especially in front of one’s place of business
The food eaten during the Reunion Dinner is in huge quantities, representing the wish for “more” or abundance. Each dish at the table personifies one or more of:
Quite often a single dish has multifold symbolic connotations.
For example, dumplings resemble ancient Chinese ingots, therefore they are a symbol of wealth and prosperity but the name itself has other messages.
So, to the Reunion Dinner itself. Many families have steamboat or more commonly known outside of Singapore, a hotpot, specifically, a Mongolian Hotpot. It’s like soup cooked from scratch in a fondue. My family and I absolutely love this. The kids call it a steaming bird bath! They love dishing up bits of food and soup out of the hotpot. Besides that, you may have a noodle dish (symbolising longevity – so you don’t want to break them up!), rice , dumplings, fish, chicken, duck, tofu, tea eggs and various vegetables! You think Christmas dinners are extravagant!
Ready for some fun?! If you don’t habitually cook Chinese food, I promise you, you’ll be amazed at how easy some of the dishes are! The dumplings, for example, must have the world’s easiest dough, seriously! Flour, salt hot and water – mix it all up and roll it out! What could be simpler?
Chinese New Year Trivia
Did you know:
-all crockery and cutlery used for the Reunion Dinner must not be
damaged as this is indicative of a rift occuring in the family
-knives are a no-no as you will be cutting off any good fortune
-the Reunion Dinner has to be shared with family, if not, their love will grow cold