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Culture Note: The first 5 days of Chinese new year celebration

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Image source:http://sc.chinaz.com/tupian/1640505870.htm

When the bell rang midnight 12 o’clock on Chinese new year eve, the celebrations formally started.

The traditional celebration normally lasts for 15 days, until the lantern festival on 15th January, Chinese calendar. However, in modern days, the celebration mostly concentrates on the first 5 days, and then finishes with the lantern festival on the 15th day (well, more like 18th, when all the lanterns are packed away).

The whole celebration can be generally summarised as follows:  ‘visiting friends and families, to say happy new year’, ‘eating and eating’, and ‘setting off the fireworks’. But, there are different customs associated to each day.

For example, for married couples, on the first day, you need to celebrate the new year with the husband’s family; the second day is called ‘Hui Niang Jia’, which literally means to go back to wife’s family; on the third day, normally you can have a quiet day at home, just have dinner with your closest relatives; there is also nothing special on the forth day, so it is normally the best time to meet friends; the fifth day is called ‘Po Wu’, which means to ‘break five’, any ‘not-to-dos’ in the past four days, now you can break it, for example, clean the house, and throw away the rubbish. (Normally you are not supposed to clean the dusts away — it is kind of metaphor for keeping  ”wealth at home”).:))

In Chinese new year’s customs, there is a very important ‘ceremony’, namely to wish ‘happy new year’ to the eldest, probably the great-grandparents, or grandparents on the 1st day morning, then the parents, then anyone who is older than you (this lasts in the whole first month of the new year). In return, you will receive a ‘red pocket’ — money wrapped in red paper, called ‘Ya sui qian’, some translate it as ‘luck money’ or ‘gift money’. I think it is very similar to Spanish ‘estrenas’, the only difference is the colour of the money wrapping. In China, it is always red or pink-ish.

Meals during Chinese new year are normally the most ‘generous’ in the whole year. They mainly
consist of meat and fish dishes, and if you are dinning in the restaurant, the dishes with ‘meaningful names’ are super popular, for example, ‘healthy and wealthy wishes’.

Also, these meals typically involve fancy cooking methods (not just stir frying), like ‘dun’, ‘shao’, and so on, some of which I mentioned before. But one thing is a ‘must’ have — dumplings, especially boiled dumplings.

It is said that traditionally people need to eat dumplings everyday during the first five days, however, nowadays, people would have them twice or three times during these five days. One thing is for sure that almost everyone would eat dumplings at some point during the festival.

There are also some new year snacks for special occasions. For example, the most popular one is ‘Nian Gao’, as new year cake. It is normally made with glutinous rice flour, (or in north, it is made with sticky yellow grain rice). It is very sticky, also called ‘nian gao’ as ‘stick cake’, but with exactly same pronunciation with ‘new year cake’. The recipes of ‘nian gao’ vary from region to region, for example, in north, it is steamed, or even served cold (with a special recipe), while in the south, it can be lightly fried. In Chinese tradition, having ‘Nian gao’ also means ‘getting higher /taller every year’ (as Gao also share the same pronunciation with ‘taller’.), It means that things or luck gets better and better every year.

Sorry for all these culture notes. Tomorrow, we will come back to dumpling recipes.– Off to make dumplings now. Have a good 1st day of Chinese black dragon year!

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