Weird Traditional Chinese Feasts
The whole world just celebrate the traditional New Year in many different ways or practice, but it always means a new life and a new beginning to start 2014. The traditional Chinese holidays are constituting the essence part of offerings for harvests or prayers. For the Chinese communities Chinese New Year or Spring Festival is the most important Chinese holiday, which is also celebrated in other Asian countries also in Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, India, Philippines and countries where Chinese communities resides such as Chinatown. The Chinese people celebrate all traditional holidays scheduled according to the Chinese calendar except for the Qing Ming and Winter Solstice days, that falls in the Agricultural calendar on the respective Jie qi . For this year 2014, the traditional Chinese New Year will be celebrated in January 31st, 2014. The Chinese animal zodiac sign is the wood horse or the green horse.
Zhēngyuè 1st – Chinese New Year (Spring Festival)
During the Chinese New Year (Spring Festival), is a very important traditional Chinese holiday, that starts on the first day of the Chinese calendar of the year, and most of the Chinese people celebrate the feasts with shooting off more fireworks after midnight, and visiting family members. It is also known as the Spring Festival in China, often referred to as the Lunar New Year. The source of the traditional Chinese New Year is an ancient practice for centuries and became an important event in the life of Chinese people because of several myths and traditions, honoring the deities as well as ancestors. The Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year, is celebrated in countries and territories with large Chinese populations, such as Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mauritius, Philippines and in Chinatown in many part of the world. The regional customs and traditions regarding the Chinese new year celebration vary widely within China. Some Chinese family gather for the annual reunion dinner on the evening preceding Chinese New Year’s Day. Traditionally, every Chinese family clean their home thoroughly to sweep away bad luck or any ill-fortune to welcome good fortune for the new year. Every windows and doors is decorated with red paper-cutting and couplets with famous good fortune or happiness, wealth and longevity themes. Giving gifts and money in red envelopes or red packets (in Cantonese lai sze or lai see, Pinyin Pinyin lishi, in Mandarin ‘hóngbāo’, Hokkien ‘ang pow, Pe̍h-ōe-jī (POJ) âng-pau, and Hakka ‘fung bao and other activities such as lighting firecrackers. The Chinese New Year is often welcomed and accompanied by loud greetings, known in Mandarin as jíxiánghùa or Kat Lei Seut Wa in Cantonese, but not often use and unpopular among the younger generation, due to some words when used it has different translations although there are most common greetings such as, in Hokkien word Keong hee huat chye, Pe̍h-ōe-jī abbreviated POJ Kiong-hí hoat-châi, Cantonese Gung1 hei2 faat3 coi4, Hakka Gong Hei Fat Choi, which means Congratulations and be prosperous.
Typical Chinese New Year Menu for Family Reunion:
The Nian Ye Fan, a Chinese reunion dinner is held on New Year’s eve, where family members gather for celebration, commonly held near the home of the most elderly family member. The traditional New Year’s Eve dinner is very large serving the traditional dish of chicken, pork and fish (yú), but intentionally not consumed, and the remaining fish is kept overnight. In Chinese pinyin niánnián yǒu yú sounds the same as “let there be fish every year, and the reason for this originates from a pun ( to create humor and sometimes require a vocabulary to understand) as the phrase in Chinese (nián nián yǒu yú, or “every year there is fish-leftover”) is a homophone for phrases meaning “be blessed every year” or “have profit every year”. Fat choy, (Nostoc flagelliforme), a black hair-like algae, also known as faat choy, fa cai, black moss, hair moss or hair weed is a terrestrial cynobacterium (a type of photosynthetic bacteria commonly used in Chinese cuisine as a vegetable, soon the product dried the appearance is similar of a black hair, and its name in Chinese means hair vegetable. The vegetable or fat choy when soaked, it has a very soft texture which is like very fine vermicelli noodle, literally hair vegetable in Chinese, which is also featured in many dishes since its name has the same sound to prosperity. Fat choy is also commonly used in Vietnamese cuisine known as tóc tiên or tóc thiên (means angel’s hair). According to Professor Chan King-ming of the team, he told the media that eating Fat choy it may cause degenerative diseases such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Hakka people will serve kiu nyuk and ngiong tiu fu. Because the phrases sound the same to one another, this belief is that having one will lead to the other. Niangao (nin gou in Cantonese), sometimes translated as year cake or Chinese New Year’s cake, is a food prepared by Chinese made from glutinous rice served and eaten in Chinese cuisine. During Chinese New Year, eating nian gao brings good luck because nian gao is a homonym for higher year, and in Chinese word it means sticky, eating nian gao symbolizes raising oneself taller in each coming year. The sticky sweet snack, nian gao, was believed to be an offering to the Kitchen God, with the intention that the sticky rice cake will stuck his mouth, so that he cannot badmouth or utter bad words against the human family in front of the Jade Emperor.
Chinese Paper Cutting
Chinese Paper Cutting or Jianzhi is the first type design of paper-cutting, since the paper was invented by Cai Lun in the Eastern Han Dynasty in China. The Jianzhi art form which spread to other parts of the world with different regions adopting their own styles and designs according to their cultures. The Chinese paper cutting cut outs are also used to decorate doors and windows, sometimes referred to chuāng huā ,which means Window Flower.
A couplet in Chinese poetry, is a pair of lines of poetry which cling to certain rules, where both lines should have the same number of Chinese characters. The lexical category (part of speech) of every character must be the same with its corresponding character, while the tone patterns of one line must be the inverse of the other, meaning, if one character is of the level (平) tone, having the same character in the other line must be of an oblique (仄) tone, or the other way around. The two lines should be related, with each pair must have the same kind of characters with the meanings having related. The most common couplet type widely seen is the spring couplet used as decorations during Chinese New Year or Spring Festival expressing happy and hopeful thoughts for the coming year.
A red envelope or red packet in Chinese and other Asian countries is a gift money inserted inside a red envelope, given during holidays or special occasions, commonly known as hóngbāo in Mandarin, angbao in Taiwanese and Singaporean Hokkien, angpau in Min Nan and lai see in Cantonese. Japan has the same customs of monetary gift called in Japanese as otoshidama, sae bae don of Korea and lì xì of Vietnam. Red envelopes are gifts given at social and family gatherings during weddings or birthdays or on Lunar New Year holidays. The red color envelope symbolizes good luck and believed to ward off evil spirits or bad fortune. The red packets are given to children or single person by married couples.The amount of the gift money inside the red envelope should end with an even number, in accordance with the Chinese beliefs, that the money gift is in odd-number, are traditionally given during funerals. Although in some China regions or other Chinese communities, gift money with odd-numbers are favored for weddings because dividing the money is difficult. Some Chinese traditions money should not be given or should not appear in the amount of the number four, such as in 40, 400 and 444, as the word four pronunciation, resembles the word death and for Chinese people it signifies bad luck. The coins amount of money inside the red packet must be avoided which will be heavy inside the packet making it difficult guess the amount of money inside before opening. The traditional way of money gift comes in brand new notes inside red envelopes and in respect to relatives and the giver, the receiver should avoid opening the envelopes in front of the relatives. The red envelopes, which the elder give to the younger family member and friends, commonly small gifts with sweets or foods, fruits such as oranges,cakes, biscuits, chocolates, candies, but not pear fruits, traditional exchanged gifts between friends or relatives, during Chinese New Year. Visiting relatives and friends bring gifts and foods.
The Chinese calendar is a lunisolar calendar, indicating the phases of the moon and the solar terms, usually a year begins after the winter solstice, on the second dark moon, but occasionally on the third dark moon after the winter solstice. From February 10, 2013 to January 30, 2014 is known as Guìsìnián or Shenian or the Snake, one of the Chinese zodiac’s 12-year cycle of animals associated in a Chinese calendar. Other East Asian traditional calendars have the same, but maybe not identical to the Chinese calendar, such as identical to Chinese calendar is the Korean calendar, the Thai lunar calendar use Dragon instead of a big snake, and a snake for a little snake, while the Vietnamese calendar uses the cat for the rabbit in the Chinese zodiac, the Tibetan calendar differs in animal names a little bit, and the traditional Japanese calendar has different method of calculation, that results in disagreements for years, between the calendars system. The translation of animal names into the vernacular in the Chinese calendar’s 12 year cycle, was adopted by the Göktürks Türks or the Kök Türks (Celestial or Blue Turks) and widely spread among many if not most Turkic peoples, also as well as the Mongols. The Bulgar (a semi-nomadic Turkic people), seems to have similar calendar method, as attested in the Nominalia of the Bulgarian khans found in some other documents.The calculating method is the main differences between the Bulgar calendar as a solar calendar and the Chinese calendar as lunar calendar, and the Tiger is replaced with a wolf, the Dragon and Monkey with an unknown animal.
Celebrating Chinese New Year Before and After
Before the Chinese New Year’s eighth day of the lunar month, every Chinese family served a traditional porridge called as làbāzhōu, commemorating an ancient festival, known as Là, occurring shortly after the winter solstice. During this date, La 8th garlic pickles is made, which turns green from vinegar. The La 8th holiday is also known as the Bodhi Day among Buddhist believers. Làyuè (Bodhi Day is the Buddhist holiday that commemorates the historical Buddha day known as Siddhartha Gautauma (Shakyamuni), experienced enlightenment, a term often related with Chinese New Year referring to the sacrifices made in the 12th lunar month in honor of the gods, served cured meats known as làròu during the Chinese New Year. Usually, the women of the household prepare the porridge at first light, with the first bowl offered to the deities of a Chinese homes and ancestors of the family. The porridge is served to every member of the family with leftovers distributed to relatives and friends. During the Chinese New Year’s day the preserved meat are eaten, then on New Year’s eve, almost Chinese families eat vegan, especially the pickled garlic. Chinese families give their home a thorough cleaning before the Chinese New year day, as the Cantonese saying “Wash away the dirt on ninyabaat. Most Chinese beliefs, the cleaning of the house sweeps away the bad luck of the coming year and welcome for good luck or good fortune. On the first day of Chinese New Year, all brooms and dust pans are put away so that the incoming good luck cannot be swept away. The Reunion dinner is the biggest event of any Chinese New Year’s Eve called Nian Ye Fan.
Beginning midnight of the Chinese New Year, on the first day is for the welcoming of the deities of the heavens and earth, is a traditional practice to light fireworks and firecrackers, and burn bamboo sticks to make as much of a loud continued noise as possible to ward off the evil spirits as captured by nian derived from the word guo-nian. Chinese communities, especially Buddhists, abstain from eating meat on the first day believing this will ensure longevity for them. Though in some Chinese people, all foods should be prepared and be consumed days before the New Year’s day, because of beliefs that lighting fires, using knives and using brooms for cleaning will have bad luck on New Year’s Day. The first day of Chinese New Year is an important day for the Chinese people, because this is the time to honor their family elders, by visiting the oldest and most senior members of their extended families, their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. For Buddhists, the first day of the Lunar year is the birthday of Maitreya Bodhisattva or more familiarly known as Budai Luohan, Budai, Pu-Tai or better known as the Laughing Buddha, because he is always shown smiling or laughing, the Buddha. During this new year, Chinese people also abstain from killing animals. Some Chinese families may invite a lion dance troupe as a symbolic ritual to usher in the Chinese New Year as well as to ward bad spirits from the homes and surroundings.
The second day of the Chinese New Year called kāinián or beginning of the year, was when married daughters visit their parents, friends and relatives, because married daughter do not have the opportunity to visit families frequently. Most Cantonese speaking business group will hold a Hoi Nin prayer to start their business on the 2nd day of Chinese New Year, so their businesses will be blessed with good luck and prosperity for the year. The second day of the Chinese New Years is believed to be the birthday of a deity worshiped in Hong Kong called Che Kung, where worshipers go to pray for the blessing at the Che Kung Temples, where a fortune stick is drawn. This fortune stick foretell the message for the fate and the luck of the city for the coming Lunar Year.The message is usually written in the form of Chinese classical poetry and interpreted by fortune tellers and Feng shui sifu. Some people also believe that the second day is also the birthday of all dogs and remembering them with special treats.
On the third day it is known as Chìkǒu translated as red mouth. also known as Chìgǒurì or Chìgǒu’s Day literally means red dog, is an epithet of “the God of Blazing Wrath” Rural villagers continue the tradition of burning paper offerings over trash fires. The 3rd day is considered an unlucky day to have guests or go visiting other houses. In 1960s, Hakka villagers in rural Hong Kong called it the Day of the Poor Devil and everyone believed that the family should stay at home. This is also considered a propitious day to visit the temple of the God of Wealth or Caishen or Cai Shen and have one’s future told. In those communities that celebrate Chinese New Year in some Chinese community, they celebrate the feasts for only two or three days, the fourth day is when corporate spring dinners kick off and business returns to normal.
The 5th day, is the God of Wealth also known as Caishen or Cai Shen‘s birthday. In northern China, people eat Jiaozi or dumplings, on the morning of Pòwǔ. Traditionally on the sixth day businesses re-open especially in Taiwan, accompanied by firecrackers. In China it is also common, people shoot off firecrackers on the 5th day, to get the attention of Guan Yu, thus ensuring his favor and good fortune for the new year.
Renri Human Day or common man’s birthday refers specially to the 7th day of zhengyue is the day when everyone grows one year older. In some Chinese communities overseas in Southeast Asia such as Malaysia and Singapore, also a day eating tossed raw fish salad called as yusheng, is eaten for continued wealth and prosperity. The seventh day is a day commemorating the birth of lord of he devas in Buddhist cosmology known as Sakra, who is analogue to the Jade Emperor for Chinese Buddhist and a day to avoid eating meat.
On the eve of the Jade Emperor’s birthday, another family dinner is held to celebrate, the ruler of heaven. People usually return to work by the eighth day, where the store owners will host a lunch or dinner with their employees, to thank their employees for the work they have done for the whole year. Hokkien people prepare for a Jade Emperor ritual Bai Ti Gong during which incense is burnt and food offerings made on the eve of the birthday of the Jade Emperor and also to Zao Jun, the Kitchen God who reports on each family to the Jade Emperor. Some people will hold a ritual prayer on the eighth day after midnight. Bai Ti Gong practice is also celebrated in Singapore and in Malaysia, where people light fireworks, often more than on the first day.
The ninth day of the Chinese New Year is a day for Chinese for offerings to the Jade Emperor of Heaven (Tiāngōng) in the Daoist Pantheon, and the birthday of the Jade Emperor, called Ti Kong Dan, Tiangong Sheng or Pai Ti Kong is especially important to Hokkiens communities, even more important than the first day of the Chinese New Year.
On the 8th day midnight of the Chinese new year, Hokkien people will offer thanks to the Emperor of Heaven. Sugarcane is an essential offering during the 8th day, since the sugarcane is a near homonym to Hokkien dialect kám-siā or thank you. On the eve of his birthday, Hokkiens offer sugarcane, as a symbol of their gratitude. In the morning of this birthday, While the Taiwanese households set up an altar in table in the morning of the celebration,with 3 layers: the first layer top (containing offertories of six vegetables noodles, fruits, cakes, tangyuan,vegetable bowls, and unripe betel, all decorated with paper lanterns) and two lower layers (which contains the five sacrifices and wines) to honor the deities below the Jade Emperor.The household performs the kowtow or kneels three times, which is borrowed from Cantonese word, kau tau, or in Mandarin Chinese word, koutou nine times to pay obeisance and wish him a long life. Incense, tea, fruit, vegetarian food or roast pig, and gold paper is served as a customary forms of ceremony and etiquette for paying respect to an honored person, and the 10th day the Chinese community celebrate the Jade Emperor’s birthday.
Chinese eat pure vegetarian food to clean their stomach on the 13th day, due to consuming too much food over the preceding two weeks. This day is dedicated to the Chinese God of War or known as General Guan Yu.
On the fifteenth day of the Chinese new year is celebrated as Yuanxiao Festival or Yuánxiāojié also known as Shangyuan Festival, Shàngyuánjié or the Lantern Festival better known as Chap Goh Mei which in Chinese term called Shíwǔmíng, literal meaning as in Fujian dialect as the fifteen night. Rice dumplings tangyuan a sweet glutinous rice ball brewed in a soup, are eaten this day. Outside the Chinese homes, candles are lit outside houses as a way to guide wayward spirits home. The 15th day is celebrated as the Lantern Festival and families walk the street carrying lighted lanterns.
The Lantern Festival in China is not to be confused with the Mid-Autumn Festival better known as harvest festival celebrated by the Chinese and Vietnamese peoples ,which is sometimes also called the Lantern Festival in Singapore and Malaysia. The Mid-Autumn festival is held on the 15th day of the Chinese calendar and Vietnamese calendar’s eighth month, (observe lunisolar holidays and commemorations, such as Tết and Mid-Autumn Festival in Vietnam) during a full moon which in the Gregorian calendar, is in late September or early October, close to the autumnal equinox (occurs twice a year, around March 20 and 22 September 22). While in Malaysia and Singapore, the Lantern festival is celebrated by usually by single individuals seeking for a love partner, a Valentine’s Day different version. Most common are single women who would write their contact number on mandarin oranges and throw it in a river or a lake while single men would collect them and eat the oranges. The taste of the Mandarin orange indicates of their possible love, sweet orange represents a good fate while sour orange represents a bad fate. During this festival, it often marks the end of the Chinese New Year feasts.
During the Lunar Chinese New Year fests, taking family portrait is an important ceremony after the relatives are gathered, commonly taken at the living room of the house or taken in front of the house. The most male elderly head of the family sits in the center. Chinese New Year traditions gather all culture and traditional elements that are symbolic of deeper meaning, such as the red diamond-shaped Fú or fook character , meaning blessings and happiness, which are displayed hanging on the Chinese home’s entrances. The Fú sign is usually seen hanging upside down, since the Chinese word dào, meaning “upside down”, is homophone word pronounced the same as another word but differs in meaning, or almost homophonous with dào “arrive” which vary in Chinese language, that, symbolizes the arrival of luck, happiness, and prosperity. While the Cantonese-speaking people, if the fook sign is hung upside down, it means the Cantonese word for “pour”, meaning “pour the luck away”, which usually symbolize bad luck, so for the Cantonese communities, the fook character is not hung upside-down. During New Year celebrations, Red is the predominant color for Chinese, which emblem of joy, and this color also symbolizes virtue, truth and sincerity. A painted red face usually denotes a sacred or loyal personage and sometimes a great emperor during Chinese opera’s shows. Red in Chinese word is hong, Fung in Mandarin Hakka, and Hoong in Cantonese word, which also means “prosperous.” Nianhua can be a form of Chinese colored woodblock printing for Chinese New Year’s decoration.
Before the Chinese New Year celebration, the following popular floral decorations for the New Year’s decorations and are available at new year markets, which every flowers symbolizes such as, plum blossom flowers symbolizes luckiness, kumquiat flowers and Narcissus flowers symbolizes prosperity, bamboo flowers symbolizes plants use anytime of the year, sunflower means have a good year and eggplant flowers to heal your sickness. The Chinese decorations usually convey a New Year greeting such as Chinese calligraphy posters showing Chinese idioms. Other Chinese New Year’s decorations include a New Year pictures, Chinese knots, paper cutting and couplets.
Chunyun better known as the Spring Festival travel season or the Chunyun period, is a time of traveling in China during the time for celebration of the Chinese New Year with extreme high traffic load, which begins 15 days before the Lunar New Year’s Day and lasts for around 40 days. During the Chunyun period, the number of passenger journeys that has exceeded the China population, hitting over 2 billion in 2006, which has been called the largest annual world’s human migration.
The Qingming Festival in Hong Kong and Macau it is called Ching Ming Festival, in Vietnamese known as Tết Thanh Minh also called Pure Brightness Festival or Clear Bright Festival, Ancestors Day or Tomb Sweeping Day is a traditional Chinese Feast celebrated on the 104th day after the winter solstice (or the 15th day from the Spring Equinox), usually occurring in the Gregorian calendar, around April 5. The Qingming festival occur and is derived from Qingming the 5th solar term, which the name denotes a time for people to go outside and enjoy the green and blossoming of flowers and plants of springtime and tend to the graves of departed ones. In Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, Qingming has been regularly observed as a statutory public holiday, which its observance was reinstated in 2008, as a nationwide public holiday in mainland China. The most common English names of Qingming Festival is known as the Tomb Sweeping Day and Clear Bright Festival. During Qingming Festival the activities for Chinese people is the traditional visiting the graves or burial grounds of their ancestors, people brought a whole rooster to the visited graves, however, this occasion has become less formal nowadays. The Qingming festival originated from Hanshi Day, known as Day with cold food only. The younger and older generation pray before the ancestors, sweep the tombs and offer food, tea, wine, chopsticks, burning joss paper accessories, although some people bring flowers instead of burning papers, incense, firecrackers and libations, pouring of a liquid ritual as an offering to a god or spirit in memory of those who have died to the ancestors, and this have been a long tradition practiced in Asia, especially among farmers. Some practice still existed such as burning spirit money or hell money, paper replicas such as house, cars, phones, paper servants and any household items. Traditionally, during Qingming Festivals, some Chinese people carry willow branches with them, or put willow branches on their gates or front doors, believing that willow branches help ward off the evil spirit that wanders during the feast of Qingming. Usually, during these days, people go on family outings, start the spring plowing, sing, and dance, while for the young couples, this day is the start of courting. One most popular events during Qingming feasts, is the flying of kites in various shapes and colors, in the shapes of animals or may be some anime or Chinese opera characters. This specific day has a significance in the Chinese tea culture since this divides the fresh green teas by their picking dates.
The traditional Chinese Ghost Festival, otherwise known as the Hungry Ghost Festival, or Yu Lan is a holiday celebrated by Chinese in many countries.The Ghost Festival in a Chinese calendar is on the 15th night of the seventh month (in southern China it is on the 14th night). The fifteenth day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar is called Ghost Day in the Chinese tradition and generally, the seventh month is regarded as the Ghost Month in which ghosts and spirits of the deceased ancestors, come out from the lower realm or underworld. The Ghost Festival is no both of them are the same thing from the Qingming Festival in spring and Chung Yeung Festival in autumn in which during the Ghost Day, the living relatives pay respect to their deceased ancestors, and the deceased are believed to visit the living. On the fifteenth day, the realms of Heaven and Hell and the world of the living are open, and both Taoists and Buddhists would perform rituals to alter and to set free from an obligation from the sufferings of the deceased. The Ghost Month is also known as ancestor worship, where traditionally the filial piety (a virtue of respect for one’s parents and ancestors) of descendants extends to their ancestors even after their deaths. The Ghost Festival activities include preparing food offerings with rituals, burning incense, and burning joss paper, a papier mâché form such as clothes, gold and other fine goods or material items,for the visiting ancestor’s spirits, meals being served (often vegetarian meals) with empty seats for each of the deceased in the family treating the deceased as if they are still living. Ancestor worship is what distinguishes Qingming Festival which includes paying respects to the deceased elders, while the Ghost Festival, paying respect to the deceased of the same and younger generations. Other Ghost Festival’s festivities include, buying and releasing miniature paper boats and lanterns on water, which signifies giving directions to the ancestor’s lost ghosts and spirits and other deities. During the Ghost Festival, according to Chinese traditions and beliefs, the gates of hell are opened up and the hungry ghosts can roam freely where they seek food and entertainment. They believed that these ghosts are their deceased ancestors who after they have died, they have forgotten to pay tribute to them, describing the ghosts with long thin necks because they have not been fed by their families. Followed by traditions of prayer offerings by the families to their deceased relatives and burn hell money or spirit money. The Chinese people believed that the valid currency in the lower realm is the hell money, and can help the ghosts to live comfortably in the afterlife. Some people also burn other forms of joss paper, in a form of paper houses, cars and televisions to please the ghosts.