“Our preparation for the New Year serves as our good pen and paper to help us write the bright and hopeful story for ourselves.” – Tiffany Leung
To welcome the bright and prosperous New Year, the Chinese undergo the different preparations, believing that this will help them lead a more successful and happier year. As I was young, I witnessed my grandparents, the most traditional generation, and my parents/relatives busily prepared the food, or cleaned the house for the big festival. As I grew up, I began to follow the practice accordingly, and sometimes learn to replace some of the roles of my elders. I would like to share about them with you.
1. The New Year’s Eve Dinner – Reunion Dinner The Reunion Dinner is considered among the Chinese, particularly the elderly who follow the traditions the most, the most important meal of the year. All family members from the different generations gather on the same table to enjoy the food. In the old times, the people often prepare some of the best dishes and share with each other. For the married couple, the man’s home was more preferred. However, nowadays both parties’ homes are visited, or families prefer dining out in the Chinese tea houses.
2. Food with Lucky Meanings
In the Chinese New Year, people busily prepare for the food which has the symbolic meanings in the Chinese New Year. For example, fish is eaten, with its name “鱼” (Yu) pronounced the same as the other Chinese character “余” (Yu) which means surplus. It was hoped people eat the fish and also eat up the “surplus”, such that they earn surplus of money, good fortune and happiness in the year. The lucky named food varies across the different provinces of the Mainland China. For instance, the Chinese in the north, or the middle areas have the Chinese dumplings which the appearance reflects the silver ingot, a kind of ancient Chinese money. In Hong Kong, the most common food would be the glutinous rice cakes/year cakes (Nin Gou), turnip/Radish Cake, and many snacks, e.g. cookies, roasted pork pieces, peanut puffs and etc. Before the New Year, you can see the different bakery/pastry shops and markets selling the radish cakes, year cakes and snacks. People often queue in lines purchasing the cakes; some families have the traditions of giving the cakes to the relatives as gifts.
3. The Massive Cleanup in the homes on “Nin ya baat” the 28th day of month 12
In Hong Kong, there is a common saying, “年廿八，洗邋遢” (Nin Ya Baat, Sai Laat Tat), in English meaning as “On nin ya baat, wash away the dirt.” People believe that through the cleaning, the bad luck could be swept away too, particularly the bad luck from last year, so that the newly arrived good luck could come. The homes are also decorated with much with red in color – The paper cutouts of Chinese auspicious phrases and couplets. Families who follow the Chinese traditions, they prepare food, which “chicken and cured meat (Lap Yuk; 臘肉) is a must, for the “Gods”/ancestors to ask for blessings.
4. Each Person’s Own Preparation
There are quite certain rituals and traditions that a lot of Chinese follow during the New Year. First, the Chinese purchase new clothing and shoes to wear on Day 1. Some people are focused on finding something red in color; some want a traditional Chinese costume, especially for the children. It is noted that any hair cuts are needed to be completed before the arrival of the New Year, as doing such act in the New Year time would be considered as bringing bad luck – the Chinese character of hair “髮” (fa) pronounces the same as “發” (fa) which means “prosperity”, thus the cutting hair act would cut out one’s prosperity. Also, one must not wash the hair or do the cleaning in the house on the first day of the New Year such that the arriving good luck would not be washed/swept away.
- “Lai See”, Red Pocket/Red envelopes
The married couples need to prepare the red pockets containing cash as blessing to the junior and unmarried members. On day one, as the families visit each other, the Lai See is distributed to the children and teenagers. Also, in the modern days, as many workers still remain in post, e.g. the security from the housing estate, or co-workers from the same company, the Chinese would also distribute Lai See to the known employees as blessing – good luck, good wealth and good health. Therefore, you may see people lining up in front of the banks a few days before the New Year to exchange for the 10 dollars/20 dollars notes to put into the Lai See.
At young, I barely knew the meaning of “preparation” and simply enjoyed myself within the “happy celebrative atmosphere”. As I grew up, I learnt from my parents that the young would have to take up the role of “passing the tradition”, mostly like the housework, cooking or other small work. I found the rituals and traditions troublesome as I needed to take extra effort to “maintain something which does not matter in life”. Then after a long time, I did the following practices, yet with the opportunities to share and reflect on the meaning of “tradition”. Instead of blindly following the tradition, I enjoyed practicing with the loved ones. The most memories left are the time of happiness, warmth, and peace.
Perhaps that is the spirit of the Chinese New Year.
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