I am so excited about the upcoming Chinese New Year; for our family, this is our most important annual event.
While one of the most special memories of our New Year is always the annual arrival of our Taiwanese relatives, the past two years have put a stop to that, which is so sad. But we will soldier on with our celebrations and look forward to their return next year…
The first thing that marks the Luna New Year is that I actually wake up super early in the morning! We then dress up in red and give and receive ‘angpaos’ – those coved red envelopes filled with money we younger generation always look forward to receiving from our elders.
Red symbolises good luck and long life for we Chinese. It’s also a powerful colour that we believe can drive away bad luck and evil. There are many layers of symbolism and it is hoped that the act of giving and receiving also helps teach family members about generosity and appreciation. When filled with money…well, it is pretty much the perfect gift! (Of course, to be slightly cynical, the red envelope and it’s monetary filling is also a perfect opportunity for relatives to show off their wealth and success to other members of the family.)
Before leaving the house in the morning we all enjoy a few spoonsful of Eight-Treasure Rice Pudding, a sweet sticky rice with jujube and ginko which my grandmother makes to perfection. This is my favourite moment of the year. Once our sweet tooth is satisfied, we head to the Chiang Mai Samakkee Charity Foundation, a Chinese temple in town. This is our regular family temple where we visit throughout the year, never missing a Lunar New Year. As soon as we step inside the temple, there is a big pot of a special Chinese dessert which is similar to a dish called bean junket eaten hot with gingered syrup. This is another version of the sweet dessert we had before leaving home. We believe that eating this sweet dessert in the morning of New Year day will give us a sweet life.
Once we have procured ourselves a year of sweetness ahead, we light incense sticks and candles and pray. This is our personal time and between us and the gods…
Then it is time to dig into the breakfast provided by the temple, where we are joined by many other families, catching up on news and gossip.
After leaving the temple each family usually sets off to enjoy themselves, whether its to go for a lunch, visit a popular café or drive out into the countryside for some sightseeing.
Here are some photos from last year of my family visiting Pongyang Jungle Coaster Zip-line Camp & Resort to have lunch and play – it wasn’t frightening at all! I loved it.
One year we visited the strawberry farm in Samoeng, as its always strawberry season during the Chinese New Year. Though I am sad to report that the farm there is now apparently closed permanently and there is to be no Samoeng Strawberry Festival this year.
We have also taken our family on the canopy walk at Queen Sirikit Botanical Gardens. My Taiwanese cousins have loved each and every single outing and I am still so sad that they won’t make it this year.
After such an exhausting day it is time to feast. I am sure that you have seen many photographs of large tables laden with a bewildering number of dishes. This is when we pray to our ancestors and have a banquet with our nearest and dearest.
Each family, each lineage, will have their own take on this tradition, some customs having developed over centuries.
For my family, four bowls of rice are placed at the front of the table. liquor, tea, water are placed in the second line. Candles are set next to the tea and liquor. Lastly, food and fruits are placed at the back. My family is not serious about placing what food to the right or left, but each family will have a particular placement requirement.
The big Yunnan Chinese style pot you see in this picture is my family’s signature dish. It’s a delicious Yunnan original hotpot made by my grandmother and while I admit that I am biased, I will still declare that it is the best I have ever tried, the spicy soup filled with egg rolls, bamboo shoot, pork bone soup, taro, radishes, fried pork, vegetables, and pork skin.
All the foods is made by the women in the family, in my case, grandma, mum, aunts and sisters. The men help set up the table and do the heavy lifting like moving hot pots around. The recipes are all my grandma’s. We just happily help her do everything she tell us to do.
My grandma will typically begin preparations, little by little, up to a month before the New Year itself because it’s such a big day and she doesn’t want to rush everything at the last minute. For instance, she dyes pork skin in advance, chilling it to make the perfect soup. The pork bone soups is cooked over many days and nights to reach the perfectly balanced flavour. And our favourite, the hotpot, needs to cook overnight just before the big day. Grandma’s preparation allowing us to simply mix it all together on the actual New Year.
I don’t have a clue how my grandmother makes it all, I must make sure I learn one of these days…