By ALEXANDRA WEE, Staff Columnist
You may have heard about an apple a day keeping the doctor away, but I bet you didn’t know noodles could unlock long life too.
On February 10, in addition to plates of life-bearing noodles, dumplings, sesame sweets, greens, fish and a bounty of other traditional dishes will adorn tables in the homes of many Chinese families, each dish symbolizing good wishes for the longest and most important celebration of the Chinese culture: Chinese New Year.
Because the Chinese calendar is lunisolar—based on the moon’s phases and solar year time—the first day of a fifteen-day-long celebration varies each year by the Western Calendar. But regardless of which zodiac animal leads in the year, from last year’s Dragon to this year’s Snake, the magnitude of annual festivities and feasts from here to overseas remains exciting, energetic and especially delicious.
Similar to how many Westerners ring in the New Year’s, my family and I like to gather together, watch fireworks, wish for a lucky year to come and dance, with the lions of course. But on top of these events plus the many ancient myths many Chinese preserve year-to-year—sweeping or using sharp objects on New Year’s will get rid of any good luck!—great care goes into preparing a traditional Chinese New Year dinner.
Though I feel I’ve grown out of many of the older superstitions, the significance of each dish has never ceased to fascinate me:
· Oranges, tangerines, pomelos (similar to a grapefruit)—often displayed and eaten to bring wealth and luck. Their round shape symbolizes wholeness and wealth while their names in Chinese also resemble “gold” and “luck”. Never display them in fours however, for this number symbolizes death.
· “Tray of Togetherness”—can be purchased from Chinese markets and come filled with different snacks that signify good wishes such as dried, sweetened coconut for togetherness, red melon seeds for happiness and preserved longan fruit or lotus seeds for fertility.
· Long green beans—cooked and prepared whole, never cut, to symbolize a long life for one’s parents
· The entire fish— cooked with its head and tail still intact! This preparation signifies a year that will begin well, end well and help avoid bad luck throughout
· Dumplings—often made with pork, cabbage or both. More importantly, the dumplings’ shapes resemble that of ancient Chinese currency, therefore symbolizing wishes of prosperity when eaten
So if you’re thinking that a bit of good luck might be helpful this year, it’s not too late to put in your good wishes. Gather your friends for a little Chinese feast this weekend; as long as you’re in the happiness of good company, you can even skip stuffing dumplings and order take-out. Gōng xǐ fā cái!