Just like turkeys, mince pies, mulled wines, red stockings and Santa's wonders go hand in hand with Christmas, here in Hong Kong the Chinese New Year celebrations have a number of traditions that also resemble the true flavors of Christmas. Falling between the months of mid January and February, Chinese New Year is commemorated as the spring festival of the year and is indisputably the most important and of all Chinese holidays.
An auspicious time where good luck, longevity, good fortune, abundance and all things new are invoked. Streets, malls offices and residential buildings are extravagantly decorated and come alive with red lanterns, fire crackers, fragrant fresh flowers and traditional music. The famous drumming lion and dragon dances that bring in the new year and are said to drive away all evil spirits and invoke harmony and good omens. New clothes mostly red in color are purchased and friends and family celebrate together. "The wonderful lai see" or lucky money red envelopes are generously exchanged with a warm greeting of "gonxi fat choi." which translates to "congratulations and be prosperous."
Food plays an unbelievably significant role in the Chinese culture; hence it is no wonder that this busy two week celebration is jam packed with tables that are overflowing with a kaleidoscope of "lucky foods'. Having lived here for so many years I often wonder what are factors that give each of the dishes or specific foods a special symbolic connotation:-
Some foods have a special significance because of his way they sound. Lettuce or "Shengcài" sounds like ascending fortune, hence it is very common to find crisp, fresh ginger, chili and garlic laced chicken or pork mince stuffed lettuce wraps on the Chinese New Year table. I must say not only are they delightful but also provide a healthy option for the one who is contemplating a low carb diet.
"Ganju" or tangerines and oranges are generously passed around as they sound like wealth, good fortune and gold. And I must not forget the ever "abundant yòuzi " or pomelo - a large ancestor of the grapefruit, it sounds like the word for "to have," and is a must have on most " Gonxi Fat Choi" celebrations.
"Miàntiáo" or noodles signify long life, so a good point to jot down in your memory is never ever! bite into or cut you noodles, go for the slurp and you will live a long and healthy life. Spring rolls are shaped as gold bars so they symbolize wealth and "Jiròu " the plump whole chicken with head, tail and feet all in all reflects a prosperous, complete and united family and will always be seen to grace the festive table
Fish also plays a huge role in all festive celebrations. The word for fish, "Yu," sounds like the words both for wish and abundance. As a result, on New Year's Eve it is not only customary but compulsory to serve a fish at the end of the festive banquet. Fish dishes are always served whole and most dishes are either steamed or deep fried. These delectable "fruits de mer" are mostly jeweled with fresh ginger juliennes, red peppers and spring onions. All symbolizing luck and abundance in year to come, a dish that is never ever finished (although it is most likely that you will ask for more!) and why not! After all everybody wants to enjoy the fruits of "extra" abundance in the coming year and all that goes hand in hand with it. The glorious, gooey sticky rice cakes layered to bring richness and joy into our lives with each layer, so this year celebrate the year of the dragon and forget about your waistline for a day or two. And after hit the gym as part of your "Gonxi Fat Choy" resolution.
Gonxi fat choi