15 days of Celebration for the Year of the Earth Dog
While the Western world celebrates the new year on Jan. 1, the Chinese mark the start of the lunar new year with a 15-day celebration that this year began on Feb. 4. Everything in China shuts down for 2 weeks for the following:
The lengthy festivities involve honoring gods, ancestors and family. When done properly, each rite helps set the tone for an auspicious year. Here is how households mark the special occasion:
The first day is spent welcoming heavenly and earthly deities. Individuals abstain from eating meat to ensure a happy, long life.
This day is recognized as the birthday of dogs, so we show our appreciation by showering them with kindness and edible treats.
Days 3 and 4
On these days, we visit our in-laws to pay our respects and show family support.
This is the day we welcome the God of Wealth into our homes. At this time, we refrain from visiting friends and family in the belief that this will bring bad luck to all parties.
Days 6 to 10
These days are set aside for visiting friends and relatives, praying and blessing them with good fortune and good health.
Harvest Day is marked by eating noodles to promote good health and longevity. We do not cut the noodles because cut or broken noodles signify poor health.
Families unite for a dinner that lasts into midnight, when we offer a prayer or blessing for the new year.
Offerings to the Jade Emperor are made on this day out of respect for the creator of the universe.
Days 10 to 12
We celebrate these days with friends over sumptuous meals, always making sure there is fish on the table, an indication of surplus and abundance for all. Dishes of shrimp ensure laughter throughout the year. Fat choy, a black algae that has the appearance of fine black hair, is also served because of its association with wealth. Also enjoyed are mustard greens, described as “long-year vegetables.” They are associated with longevity because even when overcooked, they never turn out bad. The proper way to eat them is from the top to the bottom, one by one, for good health and longevity.
The dish most closely associated with the new year is meatless jai, which contains 18 varieties of vegetables, each symbolic of an aspect of good fortune. Turnip cake is also said to bring good luck, and dumplings shaped to look like golden ingots are eaten at midnight on the eve of the new year for good fortune. Another dish that is eaten is gau, to ensure your recognition, fortune, wealth and happiness will continue to rise throughout the year.
After days of feasting and celebration, we usually enjoy simple congee and choy sum before dawn to cleanse our bodies. We never eat all of the congee, leaving some in our bowls to indicate surplus in the new year.
This is the day of the Lantern Festival, when we welcome friends and family to our homes, which we decorate with poetic red paper to bless all with happiness, fortune and wishes for continued good health.
It’s also important to dress the home with pretty blossoms, lucky platters of oranges and tangerines with color representative of gold and wealth, and “Trays of Togetherness” bearing eight varieties of Chinese sweets.
Chinese believe that every household should contain plants to symbolize rebirth and growth in the new year. Flowers are also symbolic of wealth, success and recognition in one’s career. Most popular is the narcissus. A narcissus plant that blooms on New Year’s Day foretells prosperity. We also like to have bamboo in our homes as a symbol of strength, perseverance and reliability.
We like to give gifts of gau, oranges, tangerines, plants and flowers with a red envelope called lai see when we visit friends and family during the two-week Chinese new year celebration. This year, we will be making 100 gaus to give away in celebration of the Chinese new year. This to ensure that our relationships are strong, important and an indication we wish good fortune, success and good health upon those close to us.