Sunday, January 30, 2011

CHINESE NEW YEAR - LUCKY WISHES, LUCKY FOODS

This past week families all over the city have been furiously cleaning house and preparing decorations for the upcoming Chinese New Year.
Per tradition, several things must be ready by the time the festival rolls around.
Matched poetic scrolls hung on each side of the main entryway (and often also in the main room), fresh citrus fruits on the family altar as well as elsewhere in the house, an array of sweets, cards to distant friends, little red packets of money for the young and the single ('why, pray tell, are you not married YET - we expect ten more grandkids here next year!'), and bright new clothes.

[Important words: 春節 Cheun jit = Spring Festival. 正月 Cheng yuet = First month of the new year, first new year's day. 節元旦 Jit yuen daan = Festival of complete dawn. 節 Tzit / Jit (Tet, in Vietnamese) = Festival, holiday. Node, section, segment. 元旦 Yuen daan = New Year's Day.]

Frenetic activity! But it all boils down to one thing: start the season well, and the rest of the year will follow in that pattern.

To that end, dress nicely and present a cheerful face, wish your friends and family well, and do not create any discord. Having symbols of good fortune, happiness, and prosperity in the house might make those things happen, and will definitely increase the chances that you feel properly festive.


LUCKY WISHES
[吉祥話 gat cheung wa: "propitious utterances".]

Almost everyone has heard the phrase 'gung hay fat choi', and knows that it is a traditional greeting. It isn't the only one, though it is perhaps the most common.
Contrary to what the San Francisco tourist brochures might tell you, it does NOT mean 'happy new year'.

[恭喜發財 GONG HEI FAT CHOI - Reverent joy and get rich.]

Other standard new year's wishes:

富貴長春 FU GWAI CHEUNG CHUN - Wealth, honour, and a long spring (youth).
年年有餘 NIEN NIEN YAU YU - Year after year surplus.
新年快樂 SAN NIEN FAAI LOK - New year happiness; happy new year.
歲歲平安 SEUI SEUI PENG ON - May you have peace year after year.
生意興隆 SANG YI HING LUNG - Thriving enterprise and prosperous business.
發財聚寶 FAT CHOI JEUI BOU - Strike it rich and amass treasures.
萬事如意 MAAN SI YIU YI - May all your aspirations be fulfilled.
身體健康 SAN TAI GIN HONG - May you have robust good health.
長命百歲 CHEUNG MENG BAAK SEUI - Long life one hundred years.
闔家全福 HAP GAA CHYUN FUK - Entire family complete happiness.


LUCKY FOODS

Oranges, tangerines, and pomelos all symbolize happiness and prosperity - partly because their colours are traditionally considered joyous, partly because yellow and orange are the colours of wealth.
Other 'lucky' foods are fish (abundance), melon seeds (many children), peanuts (long life), egg rolls (wealth and a good maturity). The names of these items are homophonous with the words that have those lucky meanings.

But such symbolism goes one step further - there are numerous dishes that have propitious names, many of which will be prepared for New Year's eve - the night before the new year is the most important Chinese family celebration, and everyone will try to be there, often travelling hundreds of miles for the occasion, bringing gifts and looking forward to seeing kin they may not have seen in twelve months.


NEW YEARS EVE DINNER
[年夜飯 nien yeh fan: "year evening meal".]

The essential dishes are a whole fish, symbolizing surplus, a whole (unchopped) plain-cooked chicken, traditional as an offering, green vegetables (lettuce - same symbolism as in English, but by name more than colour), a purely vegetarian dish, round foods such as meatballs or sweet puffs (completion and completeness), a dish of mixed main ingredients, signifying a multiplicity of relatives, and at least one soup and one roasted meat dish.
Plus rice - it isn't a meal without rice.

Noodles mean long life, so a simple mixed noodle dish is also a good idea - the roasted meats may be mixed in with the noodles.
Combining chicken and duck is exceptionally appropriate too, as it stands in for a harmonious pairing, like a lucky couple. You will still need a plain-cooked chicken, though.
Five dishes stand in for the five blessings though five, as an odd number, is not particularly good. Six dishes are for flowing good fortune and prosperity (not so much in Cantonese - 'six' and 'flow' are homophones in Mandarin). Eight dishes is always excellent - eight sounds the same as 'getting lucky' or 'striking it rich'.
Avoid four - it sounds the same as 'death'.

If you are a northerner, you will probably also want boiled or steamed dumplings later in the evening, considering that they recall the shape of a silver or gold ingot.


FOOD FOR GOOD FORTUNE
[吉祥美食 gat cheung mei sik: "lucky beautiful eats".]

Homophony and appearance are key in the following dishes - what the names of the ingredients sound like often determines their inclusion, what some of them resemble makes them appropriate.
If they are luxurious and rare too, so much the better!


前程錦繡 CHIEN CHING GAM SAU
A bright and illustrious future: Assorted meats.
前 CHIEN = In front, forward. Before.
前程 CHIEN CHING = Forward agenda.
錦 GAM = Brocade.
繡 SAU = Embroidery. Elegant cloth; (often 鏽 is substituted because it sounds the same as 繡 and has the same radical as 錦 - it means to rust or corrode, and is not a wise choice of words).
秀 SAU = Flowering, elegant. Luxuriant. Graceful, refined.
錦繡 GAM SAU = Embroidery. Symbolic of rich garments and official robes.


合家團圓 HAP GAA TUEN YUEN
Entire family united: a sharkfin soup with bamboo shoots, scallops, seacucumber, abalone, chicken, ham, black mushrooms, quail eggs, and various vegetables. Same as 佛跳墙 FAT TIU CHEUNG (Buddha Jumps over the Wall).
合 HAP = Combine, unite.
家 GA = Family. Home.
團 TUEN = Mass, ball, lump.
圓 YUEN = Circle, round; complete.
合家 HAP GA = Entire family.
團圓 TUEN YUEN = Reunite; to have a reunion.


名利雙收 MENG LEI SEUNG SAU
Both fame & profit to come: Carps in casserole.
名 MENG = Name. Fame. Reputation.
利 LEI = Profit, advantage. Gain.
雙 SEUNG = Set of two. Couple, pair. Both.
收 SAU = Accept. Gather, receive. Harvest.


四喜臨門 SEI HEI LAM MUN
All happiness to the dwelling: Four large pork meatballs en casserole.
四 SEI = Four.
喜 HEI = Happy. Pleased, delighted. Enjoy.
臨 LAM = Approach.
門 MUN = Gate. Portal, doorway.


四海昇平 SEI HOI SING PENG
The whole world at peace: Cooked pigeon with white fungus.
四 SEI = Four.
海 HOI = Sea, ocean.
昇 SING = Ascend, rise.
平 PENG = Peaceful. Flat, level. Equitable.


好事發財 HO SI FAT CHOI
Good events and strike it rich: Dried oysters cooked with black moss (髮菜 fat choi - "hair vegetable") and often either fatty pork or pig's trotters - the latter more common among Hakka.
好 HO = Good. To love.
事 SI = Matter, affair. Incident.
發 FAT = Issue, send out. Occur, happen.
財 CHOI = Money, wealth.
發財 FAT CHOI = To get rich.
[Recipes here: HO SI FAT CHOI 好事發財 DRIED OYSTERS WITH BLACK MOSS.
Also included is a traditional Hakka variation.]

好事齊來 HO SI CHAI LOI
Looking forward to good business coming: Dried oyster and chopped vegetables served in lettuce leaves.
好 HO = Good. To love.
事 SI = Matter, affair. Incident.
齊 CHAI = Even, level, all together.
來 LOI = To come, to arrive.


富貴吉祥 FU GWAI GAT CHEUNG
Riches, honour, and good fortune: Chicken in a crust.
富貴 FU GWAI = Riches and honour.
吉 GAT = Propitious.
吉祥 GAT CHEUNG = Auspicious.
祥 CHEUNG = Good luck, happiness. Good omens.


富貴有餘 FU GWAI YAU YU
A surplus of riches and honour: Abalone in oyster sauce.
富 FU = Rich; abundance; wealthy.
貴 GWAI = Honour. Respect. Worthy of respect.
富貴 FU GWAI = Riches and honour.
有 YAU = Have.
餘 YU = Surplus. Extra.


年年有餘 NIEN NIEN YAU YU
Year after year surplus: Steamed whole fish.
年 NIEN = Year.
年年 NIEN NIEN = Yearly; year after year, every year.
有 YAU = Have. To possess. There is, there are.
餘 YU = Surplus.


柔情蜜意 YAU TSING MAI YI
Intimate affection, deep fondness: Honeyed ham.
柔 YAU = Soft, pliant; gentle.
情 TSING = Feeling, emotion. Sentiments.
蜜 MAT = Honey.
意 YI = Idea, intention; expect, anticipate.


洪福齊天 HUNG FUK CHAI TIEN
A flood of fortune fills the heavens. Good luck all around: Prawns and tofu in a rich tomato broth.
洪 HUNG = Immense. Flood.
福 FUK = Good fortune.
齊 CHAI = Even, level, all together.
天 TIEN = The sky, the heavens. Heaven. The deity. Day.


添丁添財 TIM DING TIM TSOI
Add both sons and wealth to the family: Chicken in wine.
添 TIM = Append, add, increase.
添丁 TIM DING = Add a son to the family.
丁 DING = Male, masculine, robust.
財 TSOI = Wealth, valuables, riches. Homophone with 才 = Talent, ability.


老少平安 LOU SIU PENG ON
Old and young together safe and sound: Steamed mashed shrimp and beancurd.
老 LOU = Old, long lived.
少 SIU = Few, less, inadequate. The young.
平 PENG = Flat, level. Peaceful.
安 ON = Tranquil, calm, quiet. Secure.
老少 = LOU SIU = The old and the young.
平安 PENG ON = Safe and sound.


金家福祿 KAM GAA FUK LUK
Happiness and good fortune for the whole family: Assorted meats in brown gravy.
金 KAM = Gold.
家 GAA = Family.
福 FUK = Good fortune, happiness.
祿 LUK = Good fortune, salary, official position, happiness, prosperity.


金枝玉葉 KAM KEI YUK YIP
Gold branches jade leaves: Noble and refined. Shredded gonpoy and bright green vegetables with a savoury sauce.
金 KAM = Gold.
枝 KEI = Branch. Rod, stick.
玉 YUK = Jade. Gem.
葉 YIP = Leaf.


金錢滿掌 KAM CHIEN MUN JEUNG
Money filling the palm: Mushrooms braised with duck web.
金 KAM = Gold.
錢 CHIEN = Coin, money, currency.
滿 MUN = Fill, full, satisfied. Stuffed. Packed.
掌 JEUNG = Palm of hand, sole of foot. Paw.


鴛鴦並蒂 YUN YEUNG BING DAI
A couple growing old together gracefully: Dried black mushrooms and fresh champignons in oyster sauce.
鴛鴦 YIUN YEUNG = Mandarin ducks (a symbol of marital harmony).
並 BING = Equal to, compared with, side by side.
蒂 DAI = Peduncle or stem of plants.


There are many more - almost all traditional propitious sayings are also appended as names to food, but most especially Chinese New Year wishes.
These are among the ones that you are most likely to encounter, though.
Or they would be, if you were invited.


Tune in tomorrow for more Chinese New Year material - I'm a bit tired, and the several cups of tea I've had today are wearing off.
I need to go home now.



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4 comments:

e-kvetcher said...

Chinese simanim for Rosh haShanah... Nice.

Tzipporah said...

The toddler and his assorted-race preschool classmates are busy making Chinese New Year decorations again, as always at this time of year. I'm torn as to whether it's cool that they're learning about other cultures, and sympathy for the one little Chinese boy whose parents are grad students here, who gets to explain what "his family" does. We'll get our turn for tokenism come Pesach.

The back of the hill said...

January 5, 2012.

See this: http://atthebackofthehill.blogspot.com/2012/01/chinese-new-year-2012.html.

Listing of other relevant posts.

Unknown said...

Very nice post! every year, I am checking my horoscope for my particular Chinese zodiac and lucky things for this year. I will look forward for this year.

Anyway, since the holiday is just around the corner, let me send you my best chinese new year messages wishes.

Gong Xi Fa Cai

Liezel xxxxx
http://easyday.snydle.com/chinese-new-year-greetings.html

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