Chinese New Year 2016

It's officially the Year of the Fire Monkey, so here's a very Happy Chinese New Year to all of you celebrating! I always miss my home country of Malaysia tremendously at this time of year. This is the most significant celebration for the Chinese community and such an integral part of my childhood memories and culture. It leaves me feeling a little sad, knowing that my sons won't grow up with the same fondness, memories and excitement for this time of year that I have.

'Yee Sang' or 'Loh Sang'
Nevertheless, I hope to still be able to pass down certain traditions to them, like the Family Reunion Dinner, which is held on the Eve of Chinese New Year. The dinner typically features dishes that carries a symbolic meaning, like 'prawns' for example, which in Cantonese is 'ha' and sounds like someone laughing, symbolizing happiness.

There is a lot of the colour red at this time of year, as red is regarded as the symbol of energy, happiness and good luck. Thus the tradition of giving red packets with money inside symbolises sending good wishes and luck to the receiver.

Other traditions that I grew up with was having a new outfit for the first three days of Chinese New Year, where we would spend the first day with my father's side of the family, the second day with my mother's family, and the third day at home receiving visitors. There is plenty of feasting at all times, as almost every Chinese household will have special cookies and snacks in red containers typically available only at this time of year. 

There is also a lot of drinking, loud conversations as relatives catch up with loved ones they might not have seen all year, card games, mahjong, firecrackers, and general merriment. The festivities normally lasts from day to night as friends and family take turns to visit each other's home.

Reunion Dinner
Food, and lots of it, is definitely a key feature of the Chinese New Year celebrations, and some of my more vivid memories include watching my grandmother spending hours in the kitchen preparing dish after dish of wonderful, home-cooked Chinese food for us to feast on, while we kids had a merry time playing with firecrackers and collecting 'ang paus' or red packets from our relatives. 

I only wish that I had appreciated her effort a little more, knowing firsthand now how difficult it can be to cook for a family of four, not to mention a family of more than 30 people! (Thank you for giving me such wonderful memories of the delicious feasts we had every year, Ah Ma.) 

This year, The Husband and I had a quiet Reunion Dinner at home with some good friends, and even though it's not quite the same as being with my loud, chaotic, wonderful family in Malaysia, I still had a really enjoyable time feasting on some yummy sweet and sour pork, green beans with prawns as well as Hainanese Chicken. 

We also had the traditional 'yee sang' dish (also known as the 'Prosperity Toss'), usually consisting of strips of raw fish, mixed with shredded vegetables and a variety of sauces and condiments meant to symbolize abundance and prosperity. The higher you 'toss' the salad, the more money you're suppose to make during the year!

White wine flight
Being me, I took the opportunity to organize a wine-tasting session as well, and we enjoyed pairing the Chinese dishes with a New Zealand Chenin Blanc from Mt. Difficulty, a Gewürztraminer from Marlbrough, as well as a German Riesling Auslese.

It was a grand evening indeed, and I was happy to be able to share some of my traditions with our Kiwi friends who joined us for dinner. I hope my boys will eventually grow up to appreciate and learn more about their Chinese heritage, and perhaps experience the festivities for themselves when they're older.

But until then, Happy Year of the Fire Monkey to all of you and wishing you plenty of happiness, health and prosperity for the year! Gong Xi, Gong Xi!


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