chinese all over the world celebrated another new years over this past weekend. we welcomed the year of the boar with all the traditional fanfare that comes with the holiday: wishes for success and good health for the upcoming year are exchanged between friends and family; little children enjoy newfound wealth with each red envelope they receive; sacrifices are paid to the ancestors and the gods; but most importantly,there is so much food unique to the holiday. on new years eve, chinese families gather for the traditional reunion dinner tuan nian fan. being a superstitious bunch, there are certain dishes that have to be eaten on new years eve to
ensure a great year. fish will be part of any new years menu as the
chinese word for fish sounds similar to the chinese word for luck. a
large vegetarian spread is also prepared usually featuring a moss that
is pronounced fat choy which is also the same sound as the
phrase for fortune. whole chickens and whole roast pigs are often used
to pay respect to the ancestors and gods in a ceremony involving
incense and prayer before making their way to the table.
tuan nian fan, as many of you can guess, is my favorite part of celebrating the new year guo nian. growing up in an immigrant family in america, chinese new years was the one holiday i knew we always got right and always celebrated with complete devotion to all the traditions. it was the equivalent of what most american families have to christmas or thanksgiving but with the tradition and celebration factor multiplied by a factor of ten. my mom who is the cleanest person i know indulged in the tradition of new year spring cleaning, sweeping away all the bad from the previous year preparing the family for all the good luck of the coming year. my grandmother sewed me a new dress so i would have a new outfit to start the year in. red signs with auspicious chinese phrases painted on them in calligraphy hung in our apartment. i wouldn't wash my hair on new years day so that i wouldn't wash the future year's luck away. my dad and his brothers would close down the chinese restaurant they jointly owned in bethesda for the evening, and all our family and friends would gather for a night of festive celebration and eating. i pranced from relative to relative in my newly sewn dress , collecting my stack of red envelopes filled with five, ten, sometimes even twenty dollar bills. as a young child, i definitely thought chinese new years was the party of the year, and some of the most memorable moments of my childhood are from those parties.
my family resigned from the restaurant business long ago, so the celebration has moved into the home and out west. every other year, all six of the dang children (my dad and his five siblings) with their spouses travel from as far as singapore to california for a larger gathering to celebrate both my grandma's lunar birthday and the new years which happen to coincide. unfortunately, this was an off year, but i still made it down to the OC to spend the holiday with my grandma, aunt & uncle and cousins. we feasted on a number of my favorite chinese dishes (shark's fin soup with crab meat & peking duck) for grandma's 84th birthday this year at at sam woo restaurant, a cantonese institution in irvine. my aunt made a huge traditional spread for our tuan nian fan with lots leftover to ensure that there's surplus for the rest of the year. i left the prancing for red envelopes to my nine and eleven year old cousins, aaron and ben but otherwise, the holiday remains much the same to me - full of family, food and traditions and still the best party of the year.