Chinese/Lunar New Year falls on the 12th of February (based in the cycle of the moon, varying slightly from year to year) this year. And year 2021 is the year of the ox. This time of the year, my family and I would usually travel back to Malaysia to celebrate it with our families. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic this year, we won’t be able to do so ☹
So, what is the backstory of Chinese New Year?
CNY is celebrated for 16 days (from CNY eve to the Lantern Festival). According to the ancient Chinese legend, there was a monster called Nian (which also means ‘year’ in Chinese), who lived in the sea would go onshore to hunt villagers and livestock by the end of the lunar year. Villagers would escape to faraway towns to save themselves from the Nian monster. Then one day, a wise old man visited the village who claimed he could help them deal with Nian. On New Year’s Eve, when the villagers left for the mountains, leaving the old man to face Nian. When the villagers returned the next day, they were surprised to find that their village wasn’t destroyed and the old man was alive.
The wise old man soon revealed to them that Nian was afraid of the color red and loud noise. Since then, the villagers started putting up red decorations, wore red clothing, lighting firecrackers and play loud music to scare away Nian.
Preparation for Lunar New Year: We clean the house, shop for new clothes, put up CNY decorations around the house and hang ‘lucky-themed’ couplets on the door to usher in the gods of wealth, health and prosperity, and in my home, we play CNY music and songs to put us in the mood, just like what we do for Christmas!
Reunion dinner: Reunion dinner, like Thanksgiving in the US, is the most important get-together for us. Married women usually celebrate it with their in-laws. We only visit our side of the family on the first day of CNY.
Dishes served during reunion dinners (and throughout CNY) are very symbolic – shrimps for laughter and happiness, fish for prosperity, nian gao (glutinous rice cake) for career advancement, noodles for longevity and lastly, lou sang (more of a recent tradition, believed to be created by Loke Ching Fatt in Seremban, Malaysia, in the 1940s, inspired by a fish noodles dish from Guangdong, China) and has since then became a popular tradition, making it a must-do during CNY.
During CNY Eve, adults (kids too!) usually stay up late for the countdown and to light up firecrackers at midnight. After dinner, my family and I usually while away our time watching CNY programs on TV, drinking, chatting and catching up with each other.
During CNY: There are a few things that we CANNOT do during CNY – no sweeping or cleaning the house, no taking out the garbage because it’s believed that we’re with sweeping luck and wealth away; no crying or you’ll scare the gods, no wearing black.
These are the DOs: Wear red, give out mandarin oranges (the word in Cantonese means gold), wish everyone well when you meet them (pai nian), serve tea to our parents, in-laws and grandparents in the morning, visit your friends and relatives, give out hong baos (red packets) to kids and single adults. And of course, there’s the famous dragon and lion dance! As far as I can remember, my dad had only invited the lion dancers once, when I was a little kid. It was really fun watching them dance and perform. Have you watched them perform in real life before? The best part for me was, when you get to ‘feed’ the lion hangbao after it’s done 🙂 Imagine getting to say, I got to feed a lion with my bare hands!
How we celebrate it back home in Malaysia: Since we have a big family on my dad’s side, we usually decide months ahead where we’re going to celebrate the new year. Last year, we celebrated it in Ipoh, Perak. Our cousins from China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and us from the US flew back to celebrate and it was one ‘party’ after another! One of our favorite things to do is….KARAOKE (not me though LOL). It’s very popular in restaurants this time of the year, especially if you booked a whole hall or room to yourself. But this year, we’ll all be celebrating it in our own homes due to the pandemic. Sigh…Oh well!
So are we celebrating CNY this year? Nothing much. I cooked some simple dishes for our tiny ‘reunion’ dinner – steamed fish, assam shrimp, soy sauce chicken. Ooh, I’ve also baked our popular walnut cookies (image from thewoksoflife.com, the rest are from google search) and pineapple tarts! I’ve also made a little lion head for the kids to play with LOL
And my family, relatives and I ‘visited’ each other (pai nian) via Zoom. Hurray to technology!
Since we have nowhere else to go, I guess it’s safe to say that we’ll be ‘celebrating’ the rest of CNY at home 😅
Rightfully I should end this post with a book recommendation! So here are some great books to read to or with your kids about Chinese/Lunar New Year:
Do you celebrate the Lunar New Year too? If yes, how do you celebrate it and where? If you don’t, please share with me the special celebrations you celebrate with your family. I’d love to know!
Last but not least, happy niu year to you all who celebrate! May the year of the ox bring you and your family good health, prosperity, peace and joy!! 🐮🐂