Happy New Year – Gongxi facai!

The lunar New Year, still the biggest festival in China, will be celebrated on January 26 this year. All over China the trains, buses, and planes are packed as anyone who is able rushes to their ancestral home to be with family for this time. I remember the sound and smell of firecrackers lingering for days in the streets of Taipei – it seemed as though they started at midnight on New Year’s Eve and continued all the way through to the Lantern Festival, which falls on the 15th day of the new year.For descriptions of traditional New Year foods and activities, just look up “Lunar New Year” or “New Year” in any Chinese cookbook you have: Fuchsia Dunlop has a colorful description of New Year celebrations in Hunan Province in Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, and Eileen Yin-Fei Lo writes with great nostalgia about the holiday in My Grandmother’s Chinese Kitchen. The children’s author Demi has a wonderful description for kids in Happy, Happy Chinese New Year!

Celebrations usually involve lots of feasting at home and lots of visiting, and more food is served at every home visited. Children are traditionally given a new outfit (red is preferable – the color of good luck and prosperity) and after performing a ceremonial bow (ketou or kowtow) to each adult receive hongbao, red envelopes with cash inside. Just as on Halloween our American kids chant the “Trick or treat, smell my feet” rhyme, the traditional Happy New Year wishes (gongxi facai) have been tweaked into a rhyme by naughty children: “Gongxi facai, hongbao nalai,”  which roughly translates into “Congratulations, may you prosper…now hand over the red envelope!”

If you’re planning on throwing a lunar new year party, consider making dumplings with your guests – if they come to help, you can pass the time making piles of dumplings, then cooking and eating them at your leisure – you do have to wait until midnight to set off those firecrackers, after all! You can find recipes for pork and vegan dumplings along with cooking instructions and even a video of how to wrap them in these posts: Pork & Cabbage Dumplings and Vegetable Dumplings. If you want to serve a more elegant meal, try the Happy New Year Menu or devise your own from the Recipes page, being sure to review the Menu Planning Tips post.

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