Chinese New Year (Lunar New Year) is on February 10th this year and it is fast approaching. This means that every Chinese celebrating this holiday will be busy making preparations. It is the most important festival; similar to Christmas in Western countries. This is usually the time for forgiveness and reunion where families and friends will visit each other at their homes.
Spring cleaning is a must before Chinese New Year to fully cleanse the house of dirt and rid get rid of any items that are broken to start the year afresh and without any shortcomings. Each home will also have lots of sweet treats ready for when visitors come to the house. We always have my three most favourite sweet treat; kuih kapit (love letter), peanut cookies and mum’s homemade pineapple tart (the best I have had so far).
Eve of Chinese New Year
This is the final day of making sure all preparations are done. Floors are vacuumed, swept and mopped to make sure it is clean before the clock hits 00:00. No one will sweep the floor on the first day of Chinese New Year as it is believed that it will sweep away the luck and fortune. Also, this is the day for reunion dinner. Most families will gather and have a big meal together. Our family have a tradition of having steamboat where there is a big pot of broth (normally cooked for about 10 hours) simmering away in the middle of a big round table where everyone will scoop out whichever food they prefer.
On the first day of Chinese New Year
We usually start the day with a bowl of red date tea cooked the night before, in a slow cooker. As this drink is sweet, it is believed to bring us a sweet year ahead.
**Recipe is provided below.
On the first day of Chinese New Year, people wear new clothes and eat better food to indicate a new beginning and a better life for the coming year. They will also wear bright coloured clothes, preferably red as it represents prosperity, fortune and luck. White or black colour is to be avoided on this auspicious day as these colours represent death and is worn at funerals. The new generation these days are not superstitious and will wear anything they like but will still respect the elderly when visiting and be careful to not wear any such colour to upset them.
Families will pray at the temple and then at the ancestral temple to pay respect to their ancestors for blessing them with a good and happy year. In Penang’s famous Kek Lok Si Temple, also the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia, all the lights will be lit up throughout the celebration.
Throughout the 15 days of Chinese New Year
Some people will hire some martial arts group members to their homes to perform lion dance. Two of the members will be controlling one lion where one manoeuvres the head and another operates the body. They will be accompanied by loud drums and cymbals that synchronises with the lion-like movements. At the end of the dance, firecrackers will be lit to complete the fete. The lion and loud noises from drums and firecrackers are believed to frighten away any bad spirits, also another way of cleansing the house.
Friends and family will visit homes and usually bring along fruits, flowers, sweets or any simple gift/hamper for the host. There is nothing specific to bring but it is usually mandarin oranges, pronounced as ‘kam’ in Chinese which sound like gold, which signifies prosperity.
When it comes to Chinese New Year, all singletons get very excited as they will receive ang pow from their married family members and friends. Ang pow means red envelope and is given as a symbol of good luck and to ward off evil spirits. It is usually filled with money so instead of receiving gifts like on Christmas day, we receive ang pow filled with dosh. This is one of the benefits of being single. Hah!
RED DATE TEA RECIPE
Makes 2 servings
- 50 pitted dried red dates
- 40 dried longan (optional)
- 1.2l water
- 20 goji berries
- Rinse the dried red dates, goji berries and longans thoroughly and drain.
- Put water, red dates. goji berries and longans into a pot and bring to boil.
- Simmer for about 1 – 2 hours and serve warm.
- The red dates and longans are both sweet so it should be sweet enough.
- If it is not sweet enough for your you, add some rock sugar at step 2.