Chinese New Year
Celebration Styles and Manners:
In Hong Kong, around 1960-1982, the period I was there, I remember New Years was a big time for everyone. We celebrated around 25 days, from ten days before the first day of the New Year to 15 days afterward.
After the day of "winter break" -- an important date with an abundance of food and fruit, similar to Thanksgiving in America -- family members started to concentrate on New Years preparations. Starting from cleaning the house inside and out, mothers would do the following:
- check on the status of paint inside and outside the premises
- check on the status of furniture and upholstery
- check on any needs of new design and decor
- check on the status of kitchen supplies and food in the pantry
For the children, they usually would assure they had enough supplies of:
- firecrackers (before 1967)
- a set of new clothes
- room enough to hold red-pocket money and toys
- an empty stomach with a fast, energetic digestive system, with which they could always eat more
About the duties of fathers, they needed to check on whether they have enough dollars and coins, and be there to eat.
Mothers would set up a date for the old year reunion, which used to take place at the male side mother-in-law's house. On that day, we had a typical family reunion with all the siblings from the woman's side and her husband's side came back. They came with their children and their grandchildren and so on.
At the day of the reunion, all women would get together and help prepare a big meal -- nine courses, yum yum! (see Food). Then, the ceremony began. Right before the family began to dig in, they had to present all the yummy goodies to their ancestors first (like in the movie MuLan). At the worship alter, there were three plaques, with the ancestors' plaque in the middle, the plaque of heavenly God to the right, and the other plaque for the goddess koon yam . Also, the Kitchen God had it's own plate, and the Doorkeepers had their own plates too. On the worship tables, you found three sets of a tiny saki wine, cuplets, and three pairs of chopsticks.
The worshippers had to make a speech and thank the ancestors for having kept everyone well and safe. Also, wishes were made to continue their good works. The leader of the house had to pick up three cuplets of sake and pour them to the ground. This represented that the goddess and their ancestors had taken their sips and started their eating.
Mothers would then move their dishes to the real peoples tables and called out for 'chow chow time'. Then, people jumped right to their seat. Of course, first came the elderly, then the children, the men, and last but not least the women.
Two days before New Year, mothers would start their preparation of guest treats. A lot of hard work. Some moms got help from their daughters who loved to taste the food before anyone else. Just like me! I loved to help my grandmom, who created a special B.B.Q. grill pit for this special cooking. This grill pit was made of bricks, big enough to hold a large restaurant wok. In this wok, my grandmom used to steam Chinese New Year cake and fried those goodies afterward. Her idea was to save electricity. Oh! She used to put "thousand year old" duck eggs wrapped in a big cheesecloth towel, tied both ends with a rope, and steam them with the New Year cakes.
On the last day before New Year, my parents used to be very busy with the following:
- Counting how much is in their bank accounts, and cash out a lot of it in the form of fresh minted golden coins or unused, freshly pressed notes. These, they stuff into red pockets with some lucky wish written in front, printed by some famous local banks such as AD.
- Redecorating their house by sticking Chinese proverb posters, which represented Luck and Good Wishes in different ways, around all the walls and entrances.
- Clean up the refrigerator and kitchen utensils, and make sure they have a big bowl of assorted Buddha Delights in the refrigerator.
Before we went to sleep, my grandmom would set up some traps for mice, if they were bad enough to come. These traps were made of turnip strips with lit candles on them. We called them 'Princess Mouse is Getting Married'. This originally intended a wish to have the mice go away.
Finally, it would be: