Chinese New Year: Stories, Sights, Scents (and More Dumplings)

The Year of the Tiger began on Feb. 14th and festivities are wrapped up a good 15 days later with the Lantern Festival.

Here are some snippets of Chinese new year traditions and celebrations contributed by friends in Singapore, Thailand and Wales. Do feel free to add your own in comments!

Jennifer Lim-Josiah
My mother in law does everything (to prepare for the new year), I don’t have to do anything. The Chinese will have leeks (its Chinese name sounds like count [money preferred]) and tofu (fu = prosperous, blessing in Chinese) sometimes cooked together. Not difficult to see why.

There’s also the fish which sounds like balance/leftover in Chinese, so that we will always have enough and leftovers for the year.

Oranges in Cantonese has the same sound as gold and even number is preferred. I think odd number is for funeral use.

Nowadays, for convenience, most families will have steamboat at reunion dinners. It’s easy and self service! Prepare whatever you fancy and put them into the stock and cook it. The stock can be from soy beans or chicken since pork (and shellfish) isn’t kosher 😉 I think people in China (can’t remember which province) have dumplings for CNY. It must be the cold weather during this time and it’s a comfort food for them.

Claire Leow
To prep, we must spring-clean the house and get rid of un-used stuff and buy new things to improve the qi or energy around the house. We wash and give old clothes and repair items for charity. Any minor repairs must be done, a new coat of paint may be necessary, and new cushions if needed. The idea is to start a new year anew.

Food — We cook fish with leeks, which sounds like prosperity and ease. (By the way, to prosper doesn’t necessarily mean to be wealthy, but to be successful in your endeavours. Ease in this case means to have an easy year.) Long uncut noodles complete the meal, meaning ties will last. Sticky sweet cakes are eaten to symbolize sweet sticky ties.

We buy something red or orange for the new year – a bag, shoes, dress, scarf etc. These are colours of a fruit ripe in harvest so it means abundance and therefore, the opposite of hardship and famine. This year I bought new jade and coral earrings and a red bag.

All the best and thanks for reaching out to share in our biggest celebration of the year, sweety! I will think of you as I eat my sweet sticky cakes.

Robert Quek โรเบิร์ต 郭
When I was a kid, it was mandatory for children to have “new pajamas” – not those that your bought from pasar malam (or night bazaar). They were normally lovingly made by my grandma. It was to signify that you will have new clothes on your back in the new year.

Also, grandma being a nonya, weeks before CNY, the backyard of the house in Chestnut Drive will be a bustle of activities as grandma starts making the all important pineapple tarts, kweh bangkit (coconut cookies), love letter rolls – some cigar shaped, some folded into a triangle, mini shrimp rolls etc. Not like nowadays where you can get the very cheap ones in Chinatown or the higher end ones from Bangawan Solo (a confectioner and bakery in Singapore).

Red packets (known as hong bao) were the standard $2. Notes must be new and crisp. Nowadays, if you give $2 to a child, you will get the “stingy poker” look from him. $8-$10 for a “stranger’s child” and at least $20 for your relatives! Nothing less!

Patricia Schirmer Bazzard

We always did the ’rounds’ at Chinese New Year, but my parents themselves never bothered with any prep at all, apart from taking us to buy new clothes from the department store. They’ve never bothered with Christmas either.

But we (my brother and I) always received great Christmas presents and angpows, and never had to clean the house to receive guests, so we were pretty happy.

Gong Xi Fa Cai and may you have a happy, healthy and prosperous Year of the Tiger!

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February 17, 2010. Tags: , , . Asian, Chinese, Cultural Feasts, Festive, Stories, Stories. Asian.

5 Comments

  1. burnne replied:

    I miss CNY in SE Asia.

  2. Robert replied:

    Simply love your blog!!!

  3. divaindoors replied:

    Thanks Robert! Happy new year! I can’t believe the festivities will end very soon. Will you be taking in the Lantern Festival anywhere in Thailand?

  4. divaindoors replied:

    Robert, by the way, I love the story about your grandma! (I am a sucker for grandmas, as you can tell) 🙂

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