Tikoy, lion dances, and red lanterns—these are some of the first things that pop into mind when talking about Chinese New Year. For the Chinese who reside in China, the origins of the holiday stem deeper than that. Also known as the Spring Festival, the Chinese New Year is based on lunar astronomical movements (as compared to the Gregorian calendar which celebrates the New Year on the first day of January) and occurs in January or February.
The festival is so important in China that all businesses come into a complete halt so that families can enjoy the festivities. This continues to be a big deal today. Workers who venture into the city for metropolitan and industrial work travel back to their home provinces to be with their loved ones. Factories are also closed for two weeks to a month to acknowledge the celebration.
I asked Miss Chinatown 2017, Joy Wu, who was originally born in Yiwu, China but has permanently migrated to Davao a few years back, about her thoughts about Chinese New Year. According to Joy, “the meaning of the Spring Festival or Chinese New Year is mainly about family reunion. No matter how far away you are from home, people have to go back and celebrate the Spring Festival, which falls on Lunar New Year’s Eve. Therefore, chunyun, literally meaning ‘peak transport period during Spring Festival season’ is a hot topic every year.”
While Chinese New Year is not as intensely celebrated in the country, it is still recognized adequately enough to be given its own long holiday weekend annually by our Philippine government. Joy Wu shares some ways to maximize the holiday and enjoy the true essence of family during Chinese New Year.
1. Family reunion
It is not Chinese New Year (CNY) without family. And in true Chinese style, put together a reunion with, to quote Joy, “a loooooot of food!”
2. Main dish
Although not really top of mind, fish is an important dish to include when organizing a CNY gathering. A common Chinese term during this season is “nian nian you yu.” “In Chinese, yu means fish. It also sounds like surplus,” Joy says.
“The Chinese have always liked the idea of having surplus at the end of the year, because they think if they have managed to save something at the end of the year, then they can make more in the next year.”
Thus, fish, often braised or steamed, should always be on the menu. It is best served with head and tail, to forecast a year of good harvest.
Tikoy is a must for CNY festivities, although it’s not necessarily considered a dessert in China, since they have different types of Chinese rice cakes that they bring out during this time of year. Regardless, even the consumption of tikoy has a corresponding relevance to their way of life. Joy shares, “Tikoy in Chinese is nian gao, which means cake. It also sounds like another phrase ‘another year high,’ which means people’s work and life will become better and better every year. It symbolizes treasuring the individual’s dreams and signifies opening up the year for more prosperity in life and success in career. Because it is sweet, it’s eaten as a dessert during CNY.”
4. Red envelope
Ya sui qian is the term used in Chinese New Year for red envelopes. The literal translation is “money that scares away evil spirits,” says Joy. Over the years, red envelopes have become a symbol of fortune, good energy, and happiness because of its red color. It’s also used to strengthen interpersonal relationships, and used for gift giving from elders to the youth.
Because of the bright lights and noise, fireworks were originally used to ward away bad spirits. But for the non-religious, fireworks are still a common tradition during CNY as a spectacular effort to welcome the lunar year with a bang! Joy declares that fireworks are also one of the greatest inventions of Chinese people that are now renowned and utilized worldwide.
Despite all the festivities and traditions practiced during Chinese New Year, Joy reiterates that the single most significant element that should be preserved is truly still tuan yuan, meaning “reunion,” and I totally agree.
If there is anything that we can learn from the Chinese New Year traditions that can be passed down to our local celebrations, it would be the core value of family togetherness. As we celebrate Chinese New Year today, may we use this opportunity to appreciate our loved ones, and welcome the Lunar New Year with happiness, love, and good luck, all simply because we have each other.
Denice Sy Munez is the sales and marketing director for a cosmetics company. She is the wife of Jacob, and mom of Jake Dean, and two corgis and two dachshunds (Pancake, Buttermilk, Walnut, and Waffle). You can follow her family on Instagram @ denicesy, @jakedeanmunez, @pancakecorg, and read her blog at denicesy.com.