New Year custom – China

New Year custom – China

During Chinese New Year it was customary to eat certain kinds of food since they represented certain good fortunes in Chinese culture. Hanlong’s family ate noodles, fish, Nian Gao ( a form of gelatinous pudding), Buddha’s delight ( a vegetarian dish ), Jau gok (dumpling) and Mandarin Oranges on Chinese New Year Day. While Hanlong could not recollect why they ate some of those dishes, he said that the pronunciation of the food in Chinese correlated to other words.

Hanlong explained that “In the case of fish, (?yú), is similar to surpluses (?yú) or overabundance; Mandarin Oranges are also consumed since they are the most abundant fruit at the time. Nian Gao, the gelationous pudding, has a pronunciation that is a homophone for “a more prosperous year”, and is eaten in many parts of Eastern China. The Buddha’s delight has a type of algae pronounced “fat choy” in Cantonese that sounds like “prosperity”.”

However, not all food consumed have homophones. Hanlong illustrated that the noodles eaten are long, to represent long life and that the Jiaozi dumplings resemble ancient Chinese gold ingots, probably to indicate wealth.

Hanlong first encountered this tradition at a very young age while living in China. He learnt the tradition from his parents but doesn’t intend to carry it on. He observes that it is a fast dying tradition and rarely sees it occur while living in Philadelphia, even in Chinese communities. He blames westernization for people’s disregard. “People think of costume dragons and stuff on Chinese New Year” he exclaims. It saddens him to know that in the near future very few outside of China will practice or even know about food customs on Chinese New Year.

I have been fortunate enough to experience Chinese New Year food due to my close friendship with a peer from Hong Kong during my high school years. However, even though I consumed fish and noodles on Chinese New Year I was not aware of their significance. My personal experiences of Chinese New Year have also been of dragons parading the streets and fireworks. It is indeed sad to see an age old tradition dying at the hands of westernization.