It may be quite safe to sa y that Chinese New Year, otherwise known as Spring Festival, is everyone’s – well, almost everyone’s – favourite event of the year. Preparations in a Chinese dominated country can begin as early months ahead as homemakers start looking out for festive bargains as well as clearing and cleaning their homes up.
A unique event that we do not have back home in Malaysia is the Weiya (尾牙) which I can equate to the annual dinner hosted by bosses for their workers and clients. Lavish dinners are served and never without the guabao (刮包) which many fondly refer to as Chinese hamburger. Braised layer pork generously garnished with salted vegetables, peanut powder and chopped coriander are sandwiched in a steamed bun. Yummy!
On the 24th day of the twelfth lunar month, it is time for the gods & deities to return to heaven with the annual reports of what has transpired during the last twelve months. For this, sticky glutinous rice cakes, also known as niangao (年糕), are made and offered, especially to the household kitchen god. This is the Chinese equivalent of toffee, sticking his mouth together so he cannot tell tales on the household!
New Year’s Eve is considered to be the most important feast of them all as all family members gather for a reunion dinner. Shabu shabu is served for its significance – the roundness of the steamboat signifies the completion of the family and the hot soup keeps everyone warm! everyone warm! Daughters can visit their parental home but must do the Cinderella act and leave before 12 midnight. Fireworks and crackers are lit up at the stroke of midnight and good wishes exchanged amongst all. Perhaps a short nap before the morning call beckons and main doors are opened to more firecrackers. Apparently the earlier you wake to light the crackers, the luckier your household will be… hence this is a morning that does not require any alarm clocks but perhaps ear mufflers instead!
Day 2 is the official day for daughters to return to their parental home with their merry entourage of husband and children. This is a day that calls for great patience as the entire country is caught up in a massive traffic jam. Visiting friends’ homes is not common practice in Taiwan; most would prefer to meet outside at a common location for a good chat and/or meal. These days many families go on holidays, both domestic and abroad, during the long holiday period, which can be anything from seven to ten days. Two days before the end of the long holidays, the highways get clogged up again with returning crowds. Chap Goh Mei, known as YuanXiao here, is also celebrated by eating dumplings to signify a satisfactory close to the New Year festival.
The festive cheer remains for about a month here. In this month of feasting, which ends when the second lunar month starts, bosses who did not manage to invite staff and clients to the year end WeiYa would take the chance to treat them to a Spring Party (ChunJiu 春酒) … Speaking of which, I have to stop writing now as I am off to an early annual dinner… bon appetit to me and Gong Xi Fa Cai to you!
Leaving Kuching to work for Singapore Airlines as stewardess, Elizabeth Lim relocated to Taiwan where she is presently living. Currently a holiday planner, she has a profound interest in the intricacies of the Chinese culture.