Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Yan Yat or Ren Ri 人日 - Everybody’s Birthday

Lo Hei 撈起 The Toss For Prosperity

The seventh day is Ren Ri or Yan-Yat (meaning "Birthday of Man", "Day of Man", "Day of Humanity" or "Everyman's Birthday"). In early times, the urban Chinese based their forecast of the country's condition for the year on this day's weather.

Customs in celebrating the day vary from place to place. The people from the Fukien province are fond of preparing a special soup with seven health-promoting ingredients to counteract ill health, while those in Chekiang eat Peace Dumplings to bring peace to the country.

In Singapore and Malaysia, yu sheng or "raw fish" is served.

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The 7th Day of Chinese New Year Festival - The Human Day

According to Chinese genesis, the goddess with snake body (2852-2738 B.C.) created chickens on the first day of the first lunar month, dogs on the 2nd day, sheep on the 3rd day, pigs on the 4th day, cows on the 5th day, horses on the 6th and humans on the 7th day.

The goddess made many human using mud mixed by yellow soil and water. Also she taught human about the marriage; so human can reproduce themselves. Therefore, the 7th lunar day of the year becomes the human's birthday.

Almost no Chinese celebrate on this day. Some people just eat pettitoes with angel hair noodle. The long noodle stands for longevity. Once, Chinese ate seven vegetables (celery, shepherd's purse spinach, green onion, garlic, mugwort and  colewort) on the human day, which can repel the evil spirits and sickness away.

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Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year,as we know it, is a very popular festival that almost all Chinese celebrate at the start of a new year. It lasts for 15 days with people going around to visit their relatives and other family members. Chinese New Year is the grandest Chinese Festival among all the different festivals. Like I have stated in my previous sentence - almost all Chinese around the world celebrate it, be it Chinese from Singapore (like me!), Chinese from Taiwan or even Chinese in America.

To young children nowadays, what comes to mind when its Chinese New Year? Of course, Hongbaos and good food such as Shark fins Soup. However, Chinese New Year is not all about Hongbaos and good food. Instead, it should be about keeping the traditions of our ancestors and bonding with our family members during Reunion Dinner .etc. Hence, read on further to understand more about the different interesting facts about Chinese New Year and the process of celebrating it.

There are many things to do during Chinese New Year. Hence, everyone is always busy during Chinese New Year. The below describes what happens BEFORE the start of Chinese New Year:

One month before Chinese New Year, it is said that on the 24th day of the 12th month of the Chinese lunar calendar(Xiao Guo Nian/Little New Year), the household dieties such as the Zao Jun, or Kitchen God, will report to the Jade Emperor up in the Heavens on the performance of the family that he is looking over. This family will offer special things like good food to the Kitchen God so that when he reports to the Jade Emperor, he will speak well of them. After this, spring cleaning starts.

Now is the time for Spring Cleaning, where by the Chinese will sweep away any bad luck accumulated over the past year. PS: No cleaning during New Years day itself because that will sweep away all the GOOD LUCK

People will start to stock up on good food by buying Chinese delicacies to cook during the reunion dinner. Such delicacies are shark fins soup. Some people would also buy biscuits and snacks such as pineapple tarts. They may also bake snacks such as love letters.

Families start decorating their houses and hang up lights around their houses and some fake firecrackers from the ceilings (my family does that, does yours?). There are many different things u can hang up such as red and gold decorations that have messages of prosperity, fortune ans happiness written on them. All these are important as they will bring in luck to the house.

Some families may also hang up decorations related to the animal according to the Chinese Zodiac in order to honor it. This year is 2012 and hence most of the decorations in my house during Chnese New Year have dragons on them.

On New Year's Eve, there will be a family gathering, or reunion.

During this family reunion dinner, there are many different dishes being served. Each of these foods symbolizes different aspects:

Abalone: Good Fortune
Apricot, dried: Gold, Wealth
Bean Sprouts: Positive start into the new year
Black Moss: Wealth because when it is pronounced in cantonese, it is Fat Choy, which sounds like Wealth
Cabbage: 100 types of prosperity and luck
Scallop: Opening of new horizons
Carrots: Orange/Red Colour - Good Luck
Chicken (whole): Prosperity and togetherness as a family and joy. PS: Chicken with the feet head and tail symbolizes completeness
Chinese Garlic Chives: Long Life
Duck: Fertility
Noodles, Uncut: long life
Egg: Fertility
Egg Roll: Money and wealth

Fish (whole):The word fish pronounced in Chinese is Yu, which also sounds like leftover, in chinese. Hence, the fish represents an abundance and leftover of wealth for the coming year. Hence, this is why the fish is served along with the head and tail intact.

Jiaozi - Dumplings: wealth - the shape of the dumpling is that of a gold ingot. The pronounciation of the word, Jiaozi, sounds like the same pronounciation of a small coin used back in the olden days.

Lotus seeds: Many male offspring

Meatball: Reunion

Mandarin Orange: Gold, Wealth

Maize: Growth

Onion: Cleverness

Oyster: Good business and good fortune

Pork: Strength, Wealth and abundant blessing

Sweets: Brings a sweet life in the new year

Prawn: Liveliness

Rice: Fertility, Wealth, Luck, and it also symbolizes a link between the Heavens and the Earth.

Nian Gao (Sticky Rice cake): Chinese New Year's Cake. It symbolizes increasing prosperity every year, Hence, good luck will be showered on those who eat this cake during Chinese New Year. Sticky rice also symbolizes the togetherness of a family.

Seaweed: Good luck and prosperity - just like Fat Choy, black moss.

Pomelo: Many offspring

Black Mushrom: Longevity, sizing opportunities

Tangyuan: Sweet dumplings

Green vegetables: close family ties

After the reunoin dinner, every light is kept on until midnight and children are encouraged to stay awake until then or beyond so as to send off the old year and welcome the new year. It is said that the longer the child stays awake, the longer his/her life will be.

What happens during Chinese New Year:

Day 1 On New Years Day, the next morning after Reunion Dinner on New Year's Eve, the children in the family receive Hongbaos. As I have said, all children love these and they are usually given by their parents or grandparents. However, it is rude to open them in front of their parents. Hence, they should wait until they are going to sleep or the next day.

Day 1 In addition, Cleaning is not allowed on New Years Day itself because if a family sweeps during New Years Day, they will be sweeping away the good luck bestowed upon them. Hence, most Chinese families try to hide away brooms and cleaning equipment.

Day 1 Chinese also wear new and red clothes on Chinese New Year and light firecrackers (though that's not allowed in S'Pore) to celebrate the victory over the Nian in the past (for more info on the Nian, go to Chinese New Year Myths). To the Chinese, Red also represents life, energy and wealth. (We will be touching more on colours and their meanings later on :D) Hence, most decorations and clothing is usually in red.

Day 1 & 2 The first to the second days are spent visiting elders and paying one's respects to them. Married women also travel back to their maiden home to visit their parents. Many families also open their doors wide so as to welcome relatives or friends that are visiting.

Days 6 to 10 The following days (6-10) would be spent going around to relatives houses to meet up and there would be greetings with oranges being given to each other as signs of good luck and so on.

Days 11 to 14 The following days are once again spent inviting friends and relatives over for dinner and going over to their houses to have dinner too.

Day 14 Preparations for the Lantern Festival (15th Day) is done and everyone waits in anticiapation for the long-waited lantern festival

Day 15 The Lantern Festival, also known as Yuan Xiao, is held on the 15th Day of Chinese New Year. There are many customs and traditions when celebrating this festival. When the Chinese make lanterns, they have to hang it outside each house in order to let the dead find their way and keep off evil spirits. The Chinese will also eat Tang Yuan, which is supposed to unite the family and act as a family reunion. Crossing the bridge helps to prevent illnesses for the coming year. Last but not least, watching fancy lanterns and immersing in the atmosphere. This is the part that I enjoy most as I get to hold a lantern and illuminhate those dark places around the estate, while playing with my friends and neighbours. These are some of the traditional ways of celebrating Lantern Festival.

Short introduction of the Lantern Festival - Back in the Han Dynasty, Emperor Wudi had a minister named Dongfang Shuo. One day, he was picking plum branches in the royal garden when he saw a palace maid by the name of Yuan Xiao, who was about to jump right into a well and commit suicide because she was extremely homesick. Dongfang Shuo sympathised with this poor palace maid and devised a strategy to allow her to meet her family members.

He asked Yuan Xiao to dress in red and send her to the streets, pretending to be a messenger sent by the God Of Fire. She told everyone that she was sent to burn down the city and that even the Jade Emperor would be watching her when she did so. Hence, everyone was extremely scared. Yuan Xiao then told everyone that if they wanted to avoid this deadly fire, she would have to deliver a message to the emperor ona piece of red paper. The message stated: Chang'an is in peril. The imperial palace will be on fire. The fire will last sixteen days and its flames will make the night red. Emperor Wudi was shocked and he asked minister Dongfang Shuo for help.

The wise minister said that the god of fire liked to eat tang yuan balls and he knew that Yuan Xiao made the best Tang Yuan. Dongfang Shuo suggested that on the fifteen night of the first lunar month (Chinese New Year's 15th Day, Lantern Festival), all families and Yuan Xiao should make Tang Yuan balls for the God of Fire in order to appease him and a change of heart. Then, on the following night, every single family should make lanterns and light them and hand them outside every single household in vast numbers. They would also light firecrackers and this huge fake-fire would fool the Jade Emperor who was standing at the Southern Heavenly Gate and watching the fake blaze, might be fooled. Then, when the entire city was lit up with firecrackers and lanterns, everyone went out and admired these amazing lanterns. Yuan Xiao held up a lantern bearing her name and went around looking for her family and soon, she was reunited with her family after her sister saw the lantern. This is how Tang Yuan and the Lantern Festival came about.

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Lo Hei 撈起 The Toss For Prosperity

When putting the yusheng on the table offers New Year greetings.

恭喜发财 (Gong Xi Fa Cai) meaning “Congratulations for your wealth” 万事如意 (Wan Shi Ru Yi) meaning “May all your wishes be fulfilled”

The raw fish is added, symbolising abundance and excess through the year. 年年有余 (Nian Nian You Yu) meaning “Abundance through the year”, as the word "fish" in Mandarin also sounds like "Abundance".

The pomelo or lime is added to the fish, adding luck and auspicious value. 大吉大利 Da Ji Da Li meaning “Good luck and smooth sailing”

Pepper is then dashed over in the hope of attracting more money and valuables. 招财进宝 Zhao Cai Jin Bao meaning “Attract wealth and treasures”

Then oil is poured out, circling the ingredients and encouraging money to flow in from all directions. 一本万利 Yi Ben Wan Li meaning “Make 10,000 times of profit with your capital” 财源广进 Cai Yuan Guang Jin meaning “Numerous sources of wealth”

Carrots are added indicating blessings of good luck. 鸿运当头 Hong Yun Dang Tou meaning “Good luck is approaching”. Carrot (红萝卜) is used as the first character 鸿 also sound like the Chinese character for red.

Then the shredded green radish is placed symbolising eternal youth. 青春常驻 Qing Chun Chang Zhu meaning “Forever young”. Green radish is used as the first character 青 also sound like the Chinese character for green.

After which the shredded white radish is added - prosperity in business and promotion at work. 风生水起 Feng Sheng Shui Qi meaning “Progress at a fast pace” 步步高升 Bu Bu Gao Sheng meaning “Reaching higher level with each step”

The condiments are finally added.

First, peanut crumbs are dusted on the dish, symbolizing a household filled with gold and silver. 金银满屋 Jin Yin Man Wu meaning “Household filled with gold and silver”

Sesame seeds quickly follow symbolising a flourishing business. 生意兴隆 Sheng Yi Xing Long meaning “Prosperity for the business”

Deep-fried flour crisps in the shape of golden pillows is then added with wishes that literally the whole floor would be filled with gold. 满地黄金 Man Di Huang Jin meaning “Floor full of gold”

All toss the salad an auspicious 7 times with loud shouts of lo hei and other auspicious New Year wishes. Words: Lo hei which is Cantonese for “tossing luck”.

The ingredients mixed by pushing them toward the centre, an encouragement to push on the good luck of all at the table.