Thursday, February 17, 2005

Chu Xi: Lunar New Year's Eve

As the Chinese saying goes "xin nian tou, jiu nian wei" (beginning of new year, end of the old year), chu xi is one of the most important occasion in Chinese culture. Chu Xi 除夕 marks the end of the Lunar Year and the start of a bright new year. The Chinese word "chu" takes to mean to discard (qu 去). The term chu xi, in essence, means to discard the old and herald the new. It is celebrated as a family affair, a time of reunion and thanksgiving.

Legend of the Year Beast: Nian Shou de Chuan Shou 年獸的傳說
A popular legend in relation to the origin of the Lunar New Year and one that I remember as Mum had told me as a child is about a beast called Nian Shou (年獸: Year Beast). Nian Shou was a ferocious beast that would go hunting for its prey on the night of New Year's Eve. It was believed that Nian Shou was extremely cruel and had took delight in devouring human flesh. It soon became a custom for a family reunion on New Year's Eve and feast extravagantly as it was their last dinner before death came upon them.

Soon enough, those who had survived from the attack of Nian Shou discovered Nian Shou's fear: the colour red, the light of fire and loud noises. To wad the beast off, on the day of the New Year's Eve, people began pasting red-paper couplets on their doors; had their home all lighted up throught the night and fire crackers were set off throughout the night.

The strategy was a triumph and the beast fled with its tail between the legs. This strategy was repeated years after years to keep away the beast. By doing so, the Chinese was able to welcome the arrival of New Year's Day with a symbolic meaning in a life renewed. On the morning of New Year's Day, greetings echoed across the town with the most popular greeting being Gong Xi 恭喜 (Congratulations).

There is, of course, no more ferociuos beast out on the hunt today but the customs of a family reunion, a big feast, red-paper couplets, firecrackers and lights throughout the night are passed on and become prominent part of the Chinese culture.

♥ The 3 Main Important Customs on Chu Xi:
- Ji Si 祭祀
Sacrificial offering to the God and your ancestor for a good year to come.

- Chi Tuan Yuan Fan 吃團圓飯
Family Reunion Dinner. Also known as nian ye fan 年夜飯

- Shou Sui 守歲
Staying up until the wee hours of New Year's Eve. Only reside to bed once the clock strikes to announce the arrival of a new year. It is long believed that by doing so on New Year's eve, parents would live a longer life. Another popular believe is related to sleeping. In the olden days, sleep (shui 睡) was also referred as kun (睏). To stay up all night on New Year's eve bear the meaning of not being poor or destitute: bu qiong kun不窮困. Note that the last word kun are pronounced the same.

Of the 3 customs above, we the younger one in the house managed to follow the last two. The sacrificial offering was well taken care of before we got out of bed!

♥ tabeshimashita @ ShinChan's home in Gold Coast on 8th Feb 2005
CNY Eve Dinner
Nian Ye Fan - gold coast style(?)
This was our feast for Lunar New Year's Eve dinner prepared by ShinChan's mum. In Chinese culture (I think this is Hokkien culture), New Year's eve dinner is also referred to as to sit around a pot: wei lu 圍爐. By this we mean to have dinner steamboat or hotpot style.

Weather had been extremely hot in Gold Coast. It was a scorching 34c that day and definitely no one would love the idea of sitting around a large pot with steaming broth, especially when there is no air-con. It just didn't seem like a good idea to have a dinner with sweat dripping down our faces.

ShinChan's mum took a twist and served a dinner of cool dishes! And you are wondering whereabout is my contribution to the feast. I have to be honest here and answer you: none! Yes, shame on Pinkcocoa for not helping. I guess there isn't really any excuses. We came back very late from Lamington National Park. You should try driving up and down there. Now I totally understand what you call a winding road! I was car-sick on going up the mountain and car-sick again when leaving.

Abalone on Sweet Corn
♥ Abalone Slices on golden Sweet Corn topped with Mayonnaise

♥ Pink Rose Cake A$37.50

Fresh Prawns
♥ Broiled Fresh Prawns

Wu Yu Zi - Sea Mullet Roe
♥ Sea Mullet Roe with garlic slices
Sea mullet roe: wu yu zi (烏魚子) is a gourmet delicacy, highly popular in Taiwan and Japan. Apparently this is a popular dish for Lunar New Year in Taiwan. I have yet to work out why.

Apart from these four dishes, dishes of one whole fish and chicken are also a necessity on the table. It is important to leave a small portion of the fish untouched as a representation of having enough to spare: nian nian you yu (年年有餘).

The time after dinner is probably what the children have been longing for: the time for red packet money! Red packet: hong bao (紅包) is a tiny red packet filled with money, usually given by older family members to children.

I was delighted to receive a red packet from ShinChan's mum and even more delighted when my mum sms me to tell me she had collected quite a handful of red packets for me from my uncles and aunties in Brunei!

Once the clock striked midnight, it was time to bide farewell to the Golden Monkey and welcome the Golden Rooster into our home. Listen to the Golden Rooster crows and dispatch the good spirits of luck and prosperity to everyone: jin ji bao xi (金雞報喜 golden rooster announces good spirits)