Being in China for the two weeks before Chinese New Year is exhilarating, but so is being in Orange County for Lunar New Year celebrations. This week South Coast Plaza celebrates Chinese New Year with a grand reception on Wednesday, February 3rd for the Year of the Monkey which extends from February 8, 2016 to January 27, 2017.
Throughout the month there are in-store promotions commemorating the Year of the Monkey and at AnQi by House of An guests can enjoy a multi-course prix-fixe dinner showcasing traditional dishes of the holiday on Saturday, February 6 (reservations are required).
Festivities for the Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year, Spring Festival, or Tet if you’re Vietnamese, begin two weeks prior to the official day. With the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam, the city of Westminster comes alive at this time of year. Shopping areas in Little Saigon have been bustling with activity for the past two weeks. Festooned in brightly colored decorations, the celebratory mood is contagious as you watch the excitement of shoppers buying traditional foods and gifts, and the smiles of joy at being reunited with family and friends for the most important holiday of the Lunar year.
The gift of Banh Chung during the New Year has become the most important tradition of Vietnamese culture and was passed down from one generation to the next.
Celebrations revolve around food and certain dishes are eaten during the Chinese New Year for their symbolic meaning. Lucky food is served during the 16-day festival season, especially New Year’s Eve, which is believed to bring good luck for the coming year. The auspicious symbolism of these foods is based on their pronunciations or appearance. Not only do the dishes themselves matter, but also the preparation, and ways of serving and eating hold meaning as well.
Fish is a must for Chinese New Year as the Chinese word for fish (鱼 yú /yoo/) sounds like the word for surplus (余 yú). Eating fish is believed to bring a surplus of money and good luck in the coming year. The last course in a traditional New Year’s feast is always fish.
Throughout the first five days of the celebration, the Chinese consume tons of long noodles in hopes that they’ll translate into long life. Some dishes are even eaten simply because they have a lucky sounding name. For instance, fat choi, made of hair-like plants and pitch black, is an absolute must-eat for most Chinese families, and sounds like the phrase “get richer” in the local lingo. Often fat choi is served alongside ho shi, dehydrated oysters whose Chinese name bears a strong resemblance to the sounds for “good events.”.
Nowadays, dumplings, jiao zhi 餃子, are the major food on the New Year’s Eve and the first meal on the first and the fifth day of New Year.
Families traditionally spend New Year’s Eve preparing the dumplings and will eat them at midnight. It’s a custom that dates back to the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The dumpling is shaped like an ingot, which personifies wealth. The saying associated with dumpings, or jiao zhi 餃子, is “gen shui jiao zhi” 更歲交子, or “ring out the old year and ring in the new.” Legend has it that the more dumplings you eat during New Year celebration, the more money you can make in the upcoming cycle.
On the final day of the festivities, everyone dines on nian gao, sweet rice cakes, or “go.” Shaped like the full moon (and eaten on the full moon) these glutinous cakes are shared amongst family and friends as a sign of unity. In this case the word “go” sounds similar to the word for “high.” For the Chinese, this translates as doing all things in life at the highest level; careers, education, etc.
Whether you’re in Hong Kong, China or Orange County, there are vibrant displays of the symbols associated with Chinese New Year. Red is the color of Spring Festival (the modern, pc name) because it is considered auspicious – every where bright red paper lanterns, predominately red floral arrangements, red paper-wrapped fireworks, and shiny gold-emblazoned red envelopes hanging from miniature green trees heavy with tangerines or kumquats.
Performance and Dumpling Photo Credit: South Coast Plaza – Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging
Gong Xi Fa Cai!
Happy Chinese New Year!
For more about Chinese New Year: