Happy Lunar New Year!
Where I grew up, in Malaysia and Singapore, this festival (along with Hari Raya Puasa (the Muslim Eidl), Diwali and Christmas) were open-door celebrations, with neighbors and friends dropping in and out of the celebrants’ homes to wish them well and to partake of the festive goodies. They would mostly be invited, although it would be perfectly normal also to drop in unannounced (to avoid horrified looks, this helps if you know the person 😉 ).
My late Granddad’s best friend, Uncle Guan (which was actually his first name), was Peranakan Chinese. He was a descendant of late 15th and 16th century immigrants to the Indonesian islands, who adopted some of the local customs and style of dress, and developed their own hybrid of Nyonya or Baba Chinese cuisine.
He also might have been a perfect character for an Asian version of the TV drama, Big Love (albeit a more genteel, non-violent one) .
Japan celebrated their New Year’s Day, or gantan, along with the rest of the world who follow the Gregorian calendar, on January 1st. But they’re already one up on everyone else with holidays – on the 11th, Japan observed Coming of Age Day, seijin no hi – in honor of the youngsters turning 20 this year.
The Japanese have several new year customs and traditions, including eating osechi – comprising boiled seaweed, fish cakes, sweet potato with chestnut and sweet black soybeans – along with sushi and sashimi and non-Japanese food, which were added in the modern era. Practices include sending new year postcards, giving money to children, making sticky-rice cakes, and paying heed the first time something is done that year, such as watching the first sunrise, visiting the temple the first time, the first tea ceremony, the first sale at the shops, and so on.
As I bid my lovely Japanese friends a belated akemashite omedeto gozaimasu, I am grateful to the nation that gave the world sushi and have finally said Yes to my kids who have begged me for weeks to make it. This is something we used to do regularly together, when I realized that having an entire family of Japanese-food enthusiasts wasn’t going to do our bank balance any favors.
We introduced the boys to sushi after their first birthdays, and instantly, they were hooked. (more…)