03 June 2009

Chinese New Year 2009

Gentle Readers - it has been far too long since my last post. Much has happened, both professionally and personally. Nothing quite earth-shattering, but a few things that may be of interest to you, especially on the travel side. So, I will endeavor to get caught up to the present over the next few days. It may seem like a lot of reading, but I hope it will be somewhat interesting.

I will start with Chinese New Year. This, of course, occurred way back in January and February. But, some of the traditions and some of my experiences are still with me, and I would like to share.

The Lunar New Year is the biggest holiday on the Chinese calendar. It is a time to be with family, and to celebrate the coming of Spring (thus, its alternative name of the Spring Festival). Last year, I enjoyed Chinese New Year in Hong Kong. This year, it was to be Beijing (more on that in my next post). But, before – and after – my trip, it was time to celebrate with friends and colleagues.

CNY lasts 15 days, with a different, specific activity for each day. New Year’s Eve is a big day, and many families get together for a meal befitting the holidays. It is reminiscent of Thanksgiving, only with Chinese food. Dinners are often enjoyed in big restaurants, at the traditional setting of the round table. The night before I left for Beijing, a friend of mine invited me to join him and his family (wife, mother and father, and brother) for dinner. As we enjoyed our dinner, we were surrounded by sounds of “ganbei!”, a traditional toast that was a sign that other tables (often in private rooms) were imbibing to celebrate the new year. The meal included several delicious dishes, from steamed garoupa, crisp roasted chicken, fresh prawns, and a yummy lotus root.

The last day of the new year period is usually celebrated with a “lo hei” (low hay), a ceremony where participants mix a salad by tossing the ingredients from on high. The traditional ingredients are brought in individually, and then you mix them by together by taking them high into the air and dropping them back to the plate. As with most Chinese practices, this is filled with much symbolism (although I think the lo hei is a rather recent invention). I have included a list of sayings to accompany each ingredient (the yusheng is the actual dish).

I did this not only at the New Year’s Eve dinner, but also in two different ceremonies at work. It is a fun tradition, and if done right (and if the ingredients are of a good quality), the result is a delicious salad.