Husband and I come from Chinese families, so Chinese New Year is one more occasion observed at home. Celebrating CNY makes me miss the kids’ Ama and Angkong (paternal grandma and grandpa) who passed away a few months before the first kid was born. I miss the thought of a pair of doting grandparents who would have enjoyed passing on the family traditions and teaching Chinese practices to the kids. So on occasions such as this, I make it a point to observe as many traditions as we know, in their honor. My goal is to keep this list of traditions growing as a way to keep the memory of Ama and Angkong alive in our home. My heart melted yesterday when I overheard the Toddler saying “good morning Ama, good morning Angkong” to her grandparents’ picture in the other room.
On our first Chinese New Year in Minnesota, we learned that:
1) There’s no Chinatown. That sort of ruined my theory that there is a Chinatown in any city in the world where there is Chinese. I guess I forgot about the Midwest. Kidding! Anyway, I made my peace, thanks to the good number of Asian grocery stores and restaurants here.
2) There’s also a good number of people here who observe Chinese New Year, judging from the shortage of Tikoy* in all the Asian stores. Or they just don’t make enough of it despite what their yearly sales data might have indicated.
3) Prepare for the occasion, at the latest, a couple of weeks ahead. After our first year, we have learned to stock on our CNY essentials much earlier than what we’re used to in the Philippines.
This year, there were festivities organized at Papa’s office. So we went to join him for lunch. We then found ourselves at the ‘front row’ for the Lion Dance.
Lion Dance is believed to usher in luck and fortune, while the loud beats of the drum drive away the evil spirits. Witnessing the Lion eat lettuce also brings fortune.
During the performance, the Lion eats mandarin oranges and spits them back out. Whoever catches the orange will have good luck. I wonder if something is said about getting more luck if the orange lands smack onto one’s face. Our Lion directed its first orange towards our Toddler. But thanks to my questionable reflex, it ended up on her face. “I don’t like that”, she says. But she fondly recalls this moment later.
A lady at the office also gave red packets to the kids. We call this ang pao or hongbao. Traditionally, our parents/elders give this to us on special occasions. It usually contains money, the amount in even number except 4 because its homonym is death. Sometimes, chocolate coins, like what the kids got.
On New Year, like on birthdays, we wear red or bright colors. Red means good luck. We hang decors, mostly red, that bring luck. My in-laws used to hang pineapple and oranges in our doorway. This year, we hang a little paper decor of a dragon and a gold fish.
Food is also carefully chosen for this occasion — anything that represent, or with a homonym for, prosperity, luck, wealth, long life, and so on. My mother-in-law was a great cook and would prepare a feast. Since she passed, I made sure to learn one of her specialty dishes — Pata Tim (pork leg slowly braised) — and make them on Husband’s birthday and New Year’s eve, to honor his Mom’s memory.
Pancit is a common New Year dish because noodles represent longevity and long life. I topped our Pancit Canton with the Toddler’s favorite fish balls, especially the ones with flower prints on it, and the delicious Macau sausage.
Round food, symbolizing fullness, are encouraged. So for dessert, I prepared almond jelly and lychee (both straight out of the can…and into the fridge for a cool and easy dessert).
Lastly, my favorite food — the Chinese New Year rice pudding, popularly known in the Philippines as *Tikoy. It is a sticky glutinous rice cake which in Chinese is called niangao. The name is a homonym for “higher year”. It is also believed that the sticky food will make the fortune stick.
It is usually sliced thinly (~1.5″) and fried with egg wash on a little oil.
I started making it my personal tradition on CNY to cook Tikoy for friends. This year, instead of the thin slices, I made little cubes of them which are then packed into little bags. Makes them a little more presentable as gifts.
While our Chinese practices on New Year largely revolve on the theme of prosperity, Silver Lining Mama would like our CNY traditions to focus on Family (being together, thinking about what makes everyone happy), Food (sharing stories and laughter over meals), Giving (making gifts to give instead of thinking about what to get), and Giving Thanks (finding the blessings that are already present).
I look forward to growing this list of traditions in the years to come.