Gong Xi Fa Cai: Chinese New Year traditions
As a young girl, Chinese New Year was one of my favorite holidays, one that my Chinese-Irish family celebrated with gusto. My fingers would get sticky from helping my grandmother fill and fold trays of homemade wontons. My grandparents would close their restaurant early and get it ready for the evening’s family festivities. My brother and I would move the tables and chairs into one long row, so we could face each other and converse. My dad and uncles would prepare a mouth-watering feast of many courses, and when our bellies were full, we would end the night shooting off leftover fireworks in either my grandparents backyard or in the middle of my parents’ driveway.
Chinese New Year is based on a lunisolar calendar. A lunar month is about two days shy of a solar month (which most of the world follows). In order for the lunar months to catch up, a month is added every few years — hence the inconsistent date for the lunar New Year. This year, Chinese New Year falls on Saturday, Jan. 28. Although most celebrations last only a few days, it’s not unusual for them to last 15 days.
Chinese New Year is about spending time with family and ushering in the new year. Loved ones gather together on New Year’s Eve for an elaborate and delicious dinner. Tender dumplings, savory noodle dishes, and sweet, sticky rice cakes can be found on most tables. The dumplings represent wealth, while the long noodles (the longer the better) symbolize wishes for longevity. Nian Gao, or sticky rice cakes, bring hope for prosperity in the coming year.
One tradition that I have enjoyed passing on to my kids is the red envelope. The color red means good luck, joy or happiness. Shiny, crisp small red envelopes are filled with a coin or small bill of money and given from the older generation to the younger one. My grandfather would hand my brother and me our envelopes with a twinkle in his eye, and we would open them curious to see what he had put inside.
Chinese New Year in Europe
While Chinese New Year celebrations are commonplace in Asia and the U.S., there are plenty of festivities throughout Europe. Colorful floats, traditional lion dances and dazzling fireworks displays will fill the streets of Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, Brussels and even Stockholm. The largest celebration outside of Asia is held each year in London. This year, the party starts Jan. 29, with thousands of spectators lining the streets near Trafalgar Square for parades, acrobats, artists and, of course, fireworks.
If you can’t make it to one of these celebrations, you can absolutely celebrate nearby. Grab takeout from your favorite Asian restaurant, gather your loved ones at the table, and hand out some red envelopes to the little ones. If you’re feeling adventurous in the kitchen, try your hand at these recipes: pot stickers or crab rangoon with sweet and sour sauce.
Gong Xi Fa Cai (Happy New Year)!