Every first of January, people come together to celebrate a mutual holiday that beckons a fresh start and new opportunities for all, the New Year. During this time, people come up with different activities to make the event festive and memorable. But one thing is sure, a feast always follows to allow friends and family to strengthen their bonds over a good meal.
This February 1, the Chinese community will celebrate the beginning of a new cycle in their lunar calendar. This holiday is known as Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year, and like other cultures around the world, they also have their way of celebrating the event, and food plays a significant role in it.
Besides bringing people together to enjoy the holidays over a pleasant meal, the food served during the Lunar New Year is symbolic of inviting good fortune and prosperity in households.
For instance, serving noodles is a tradition during the new year meal. In Chinese culture, noodles symbolize longevity and happiness. And since the start of a new year is always an ideal time to invite good fortune, various kinds of noodle dishes are a common sight on the dining table. Superstition says that the noodles should be kept long and served uncut so those who eat the dish can enjoy long and happy lives.
Another meal served during the Lunar New Year is fish, usually steamed, but it can also be braised, boiled, or more. The Chinese word for fish sounds similarly to surplus. They believe that it promotes extra income towards the end of the year and take it with them to the next.
Several beliefs also dictate how the fish should be eaten, like leaving the dish to last along with some leftovers. Others include the fish head placed toward distinguished guests or elders to represent respect. Those at the table can enjoy the dish after those facing the fish’s head had their turn.
Dumplings also make a good addition to the new year spread, especially since they’ve been around for 1,800 years, thus giving them a spot on the Lunar New Year table. This flavorful dish is filled with minced meat and finely-chopped vegetables wrapped in a thin dough and cooked by baking, boiling, frying, or steaming.
It’s also forbidden to serve the dumplings in a circular arrangement. They have to form lines as if they were going somewhere to show progress in life.
Chinese New Year also goes by another name among the Chinese. It’s known as Spring Festival because it marks the beginning of spring. A traditional dish that honors such a celebration is the Chinese spring rolls. The Cantonese dim sum is made up of cylindrical-shaped rolls filled with meat or vegetables. Spring rolls are always cooked fried because the golden brown color of its wrapper symbolizes wealth.
Steamed chicken is another favorite when celebrating the Chinese New year. A whole chicken symbolizes the family and their strong relationship. Once cooked, the chicken is offered to their ancestors to ask for blessings and protection.
Lastly, fruits also make an appearance during the Chinese New Year meal. But the fruits that are served need to meet two crucial specifications: they must be round and in shades of gold. Some prime examples are pomelos and oranges. Aside from being delicious and healthy, these two particular fruits are symbolic.
For example, eating and displaying oranges brings fortune and good luck. In the meantime, the more pomelo people eat, the more wealth it is said to bring.
Although most families dine out to celebrate the Lunar New Year, the ongoing health risk brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic may hinder plans of going out. The best and safest alternative, for now, is to order online from their favorite Chinese restaurants. Cooking these dishes at home is also a great option because it allows families to bond throughout the process.
Food isn’t the only tradition that’s observed during the new year’s celebration as dining etiquette is also observed. Some of these do’s and don’ts include avoiding sticking chopsticks into a bowl of rice because it’s considered rude and said to invite bad luck.
Eating with a closed mouth is also advised because slurping is extremely rude in Chinese culture. Another table manner don’t is to start eating before the host. Instead, serve someone else first.
The origins of the Lunar New Year
Celebrating the new year is the most important holiday in China. It is also observed in other countries such as Vietnam, North and South Korea, and Tibet. The holiday began as a holiday to honor the Chinese household and celestial deities as well as their ancestors.
Its origins can be traced to 3,500 years ago, even though it’s not exactly recorded. Some believe that it started from the Shang Dynasty in 1600 to 1046 B.C. and, like traditional festivals, is shrouded deep in stories and myths.
The most popular one is about the mythical beast Nian, who comes around yearly to devour, livestock, and people.
Eventually, they began leaving out food at their doorsteps to prevent the mythical beast from attacking. It is said that an elderly wise man discovered that Nian was afraid of loud noises and the color red. This resulted in people setting off fireworks and decorating their surroundings with red paper lanterns during the night the beast attacks.
As the years progressed, the traditions developed and adapted to modern times. However, some ancient customs can still be seen today.
Fireworks and scarlet-adorned streets or households are a telltale sign of the Lunar New Year. The famous lion dance by street performers also remembers the ancient origin of the holiday as dancers holding a lion costume are given offerings from them to move on to another establishment.
While the once lively and colorful holiday tamed down due to the pandemic, there’s still a lot to celebrate and be thankful for as a new year opens up new opportunities for all to enjoy. This holiday, like every other one, is best observed with loved ones.
Here’s to a wonderful and prosperous Lunar New Year.