Posted on: Monday February 8, 2016
It still remains the most important festival and economic holiday in China despite China having joined the rest of the world in celebrating 01st of January. Well, I mean the Chinese New Year, which is often referred to as ‘Chinese Lunar New Year’. It is based on ancient Chinese lunisolar calendar in circulation since the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC to 1100 BC) when the term ‘Spring Festival’ - being the harbinger of spring season, gained popularity. It is the longest celebration in the Chinese calendar with festivities beginning on eve of the first day (new moon day) of the first lunar month on the calendar and continuing until the ‘Lantern Festival’ on the 15th day i.e. the full moon day.
Two important governing aspects of this calendar are Yin and Yang - the opposing but complementary principles that make up a harmonious world and the Chinese zodiac - the cycle of twelve stations along the apparent celestial path of the sun assigned to 12 animals - rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. Chinese New Year day mostly falls between January 21 and February 20 of the Gregorian calendar and this year it’s on 08th February. Going by another Chinese belief system that counts the beginning of New Year’s celebration since the period of Emperor Yao and Shun (~2300 B.C.), this would be 4714th Chinese year. 2016 is the year of the Monkey (as per Chinese zodiac) and its lucky colours - white, blue and gold are considered good for innovation and improvisation. Chinese New Year is also celebrated in Kolkata - the only Chinatown of India with traditional fanfare.
People normally clean up the house and decorate with different symbolic items. This year red monkey dolls for children and New Year paintings with monkeys are doing the round. Scarlet (bright-red colour) is the dominant colour of the festival as it is believed to be the colour of luck, happiness and health. Scarlet banners & flags fly everywhere. Why ‘Scarlet / Red colour’? Chinese legends say this colour was used to ward off Nian - a mythical beast with a body of a bull and the head of a lion that swallowed people and other animals. Ang paos or hóngbāo (red envelopes) filled with money are given to children wishing year-long good fortunes for the family. Chinese lanterns light up the houses & the streets and dragons dance on the roads and firecrackers go up to scare away the evil spirits. People buy new things and visit places. Traditionally this is the time to honour household and heavenly deities as well as ancestors and for celebrations with family get together and feasting, most significantly on New Year's Eve much like Christmas time in the west. A Chinese New Year phrase: "may there be surpluses every year" is reflected in the ritual of half-eaten fish in the New Year Eve feast
Lucky food is served during the 16 day festival period, especially New Year’s Eve, which is believed to bring good luck for the coming year; the auspiciousness is due to their pronunciations or appearance. Here dishes do matter, but their preparation and ways of serving and eating also mean a lot. The most common Chinese New Year foods includes dumplings, fish, spring rolls, and Niángāo or Chinese New Year's cake – a glutinous rice cake.
In Chinese, "fish" sounds like ‘surplus’, so Chinese people always like to have some year-end surplus, because they think if they have managed to save something at the end of the year, then they can make more in the coming year. The first character of Crucian carp (fish) – one of the New Year Eve feast favourites sounds like the Chinese word 吉 - jí / jee or ‘good luck', so eating Crucian carp is considered to bring good luck for the next year. Tangerines and oranges, Long Noodles (eating long noodles means living a long life), pomelo, Jai – a vegetarian dish with sea moss, lotus seeds, noodles, lily buds, etc. (you know, it’s part of the Buddhist culture to cleanse yourself with vegetables) are other ‘good luck’ foods of the New Year.
Chinese society greatly valued gastronomy and developed an extensive study of the subject based on its traditional medical beliefs. Stretching back to thousands of years, Chinese cuisine is an amalgamation of styles originating from the diverse regions of China and other cultural influences. The eight culinary cuisines of China - Anhui, Cantonese, Fujian, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Szechuan and Zhejiang are linked to major provinces of the country. The staple foods of Chinese cooking include rice (glutinous rice or ‘sticky rice’ is mostly reserved for specialty dishes), noodles, vegetables, sauces and seasonings that includes spices & herbs. And desserts include baked Bings, candies and sweets (called táng), Guo (rice based snacks) and seasonal fruits.
Now you have chance to steep yourself in some Chinese fervour or fever (whatever you like to call) this month by joining in the New Year feast at ITC Maratha and Sheraton New Delhi or sampling other Chinese delicacies at ITC Grand Chola.