Chinese New Year 2013
The welcoming of the New Spring, or Chinese New Year as it is more commonly known, is the most important celebration of the Chinese festivities. The Chinese and people with Chinese ethnicity all over the world mark this auspicious day with traditional customs. Food is an important part of these celebrations with family and friends.
Around 15% of the Thai population are believed to be descendants of Chinese settlers who arrived from the early nineteenth century onwards and integrated successfully with Thai society. The Chinese introduced the use of a wok, the techniques of deep-frying and stir-frying dishes, and noodles, oyster sauce and soybean products in Thai cooking. Since Thai people have strong a Chinese heritage, Chinese traditions like the Lunar New Year (Wan Trut Jin in Thai) have become an integral part of Thai culture. These practices are different from Songkran the Thai New Year’s day celebrated in April.
Prayers are accompanied by offerings of food which has symbolic meaning. A whole steamed chicken or duck means wholeness, while mandarin oranges bring wealth and good luck. A family, temple, or even an entire company might celebrate together, putting out platters of fruit or heavy Chinese sweets like glutinous rice flour cakes filled with sticky brown sugar and red dates. Many also offer vegetarian foods. Along with these spirit banquets, the burning of paper money, paper gold, and even paper clothes is performed for the ancestors to use in the afterlife.
On New Year’s Day people visit their relatives and friends in their homes, eating and visiting. To bring good luck for the coming year, Thais offer their relatives seasonal oranges (perhaps imported from China), and give red envelopes full of money to children. Many people wear auspicious colours like red and gold.
The Japanese too observe New Year’s Day. Prior to the Meiji Period, the date of the Japanese New Year was based on the Chinese lunar calendar, as are the contemporary Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese New Years. However, in 1873, Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar and the first day of January became the official and cultural New Year’s Day. In the Ryukyu Islands, Okinawa, the cultural New Year is still celebrated as the contemporary Chinese New Year’s Day. Traditionally, Japanese would usher the New Year with Toshikoshi Soba, or Year-End Soba, traditionally eaten in Japan on New Year’s Eve.
Japanese people have a custom of giving money to children. This is known as otoshidama (お年玉). It is handed out in small-decorated envelopes called ‘pochibukuro,’ similar to Chinese red envelopes. In the Edo period large stores and wealthy families gave out a small bag of mochi and a Mandarin orange to spread happiness all around during this time.
It is easy to see why all this delicious traditional food goes hand in hand with the Chinese New Year Celebrations all across Asia, making it such a special time of year to spend with family and friends.