Did you know that each of the 15 days throughout Chinese New Year is allocated for a specific purpose? I certainly didn’t know about some of these days, until I got married. Boy, was that an interesting Chinese New Year for me! I got a crash course from my mother-in-law and here’s the lowdown.
Chinese New Year’s Eve
The most important occasion: the reunion dinner. Children from near and far return to their parents’ home, or the home of the eldest of the family for a reunion meal. For married couples, the family always returns to the husband’s side for this meal. I’m blessed to have a mother-in-law who cooks up a feast for each of our reunion dinners! After our dinner, my mother-in-law starts prepping to welcome the deities of heavens and earth by getting the altar, offerings and joss sticks ready. The welcoming officially begins at midnight. It is a traditional practice to light fireworks and firecrackers to make as much of a din as possible, to chase off the evil spirits.
All meals are vegetarian, as it is believed this will ensure long and happy lives, and who wouldn’t want that? Although, my kid struggles a bit on this day as ahem… he’s not a ‘fan’ of vegetables nor the vegetarian meat substitute (he could tell, even from a young age). Fortunately for me though, he loves plain white rice and fried tofu sticks, so he’s happy to just go through the day with just these.
Traditionally, we head over to my in-laws mid-morning. We will start off with the giving out of ang pows. With every ang pow given, both the giver and receiver should utter well wishes to each other. Be forewarned though, if you’re newly married, a lot of the wishes for you would be for you and your partner to have a child as quickly as possible! After ang pows, we proceed to have an early (vegetarian) lunch.
Day 2: honour the elders
This is a time to honour one’s elders. Families visit the oldest and most senior members of their extended families, usually their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. At my in-laws, family members would normally come from all around the world to visit. My mother-in-law will be at it again, cooking up a feast for up to as many as 30 pax! The number of seats at the dining tables are packed in and the seating is segregated according to age/generation. Over the years, we had to add more tables, as younger ones come into the fold.
Days 3 and 4: pay a visit to parents(-in-law)
These two days are for married daughters to visit their parents and relatives, and for sons-in-laws to pay respect to their parents-in-laws. Another feast will take place, this time at the wife’s side, on either of these days.
Day 5 is for dumplings
This day is the God of Wealth’s birthday and people eat dumplings (which symbolises wealth because of their shape) on this day.
Day 6: visiting relatives, friends and the temple
We visit relatives and friends on this day. Visits to the temples also take place, to pray for good things.
Day 7 stands for Ren Ri
On Ren Ri, it’s everyone’s birthday. This is the day when everyone grows one year older. People eat noodles to promote longevity. You’re not allowed to cut the noodles and you have to eat them bit by bit as the longer the noodles, the longer the life.
Days 8 and 9: Bai Tian Gong
The Hokkien community celebrates their most significant event of the year – Jade Emperor’s Birthday – on the ninth day of the New Year. According to folklore, the Hokkien people couldn’t celebrate New Year for a long time, because a cruel general was ruling them. On the 8th day of the New Year, the Jade Emperor came at midnight and freed them.
Prep for prayers starts from 11pm on the 8th day of the New Year, with fire works and fire crackers being lit, and continues through the 9th day of the New Year. Sugar cane plays an important role in Bai Tian Gong. You can find out more here.
Days 10, 11 and 12 are for friends
These are days when friends should be invited for dinner.
Day 13 is for vegetarian food only
On the 13th day people will eat vegetarian food only – in the belief that it will clean out their stomachs – due to consuming too much food over the preceding two weeks, which isn’t a bad thing at all!
Day 14: prepare for Chap Goh Mei
People are preparing to celebrate Chap Goh Mei, the last day of Chinese New Year.
Day 15: Chap Goh Mei
Families eat rice dumplings (tang yuan), sweet glutinous rice balls brewed in a ginger soup, on this day. They also light candles, outside houses as a way to guide wayward spirits home. In Malaysia, this day is also known as Chinese Valentine’s Day. Single women write their contact number on mandarin oranges and throw them in a river or a lake while single men collect them and eat the oranges. The taste is an indication of their possible love: sweet represents a good fate while sour represents a bad fate.