Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Celebrate Chinese New Year at home

Wok Star Eleanor Hoh offers delicious 2009 Chinese New resolution.

For 2009 Year of Ox predictions and horoscope.

Longevity, prosperity, and good health
This year's Chinese New Year will be Thursday, February 7, 2008. It means I can begin a new leaf and sweep away some of my bad habits, starting off with posting blogs on a regular basis! I collected and summarized information from many sources including Wikipedia and also from my childhood memories to hopefully give you a flavor of how we celebrate this very important occasion in the Chinese Lunar calendar.

I would love to hear how you spend your Chinese New Year.

You'll find out what to eat, wear, even tips on how to make a Chinese scroll, how to present a table setting and decorating your home for your own Chinese New Year celebrations with your family and friends. There's also Forecast for Rats, who are celebrity rats and zodiac meanings etc.

If you happen to live in South Florida, I'll be giving 3 Special Wok Star cooking classes with surprises at three different venues. These always fill up fast. Otherwise, those unable to schedule a class into your busy life, my Wok Star Kit has everything you need (including Asian seasonings) so you can celebrate at home.

Chinese New Year is the longest and most important celebration in the Chinese calendar. The new year begins on the first day of the Chinese calendar (Feb.7, 2008), which usually falls in February, and the festivities continue for 15 days.

During Chinese New Year celebrations, people wear red clothes, give children 'lucky money' in red envelopes and set off firecrackers. Red symbolises fire, which the Chinese believe drives away bad luck. Family members gather at each other's homes for extravagant meals.

What to eat:
New Year's eve is dinner with family, I remember my mother serving one of everything: beef, pork, chicken, duck, fish, shrimp, soup, several veggie dishes.

Traditionally, many dishes symbolize good luck like Buddha's Delight: a vegetarian dish with Chinese mushrooms, toufu, a variety of veggies and very important, black hair moss. Dumplings, both sweet and savory, which represent luck packaged inside. Noodles, ALWAYS served uncut represents longevity and long life. I like to crisp mine up under the grill (first boiling them and rinsing dry) by spreading them on an oiled wax paper or foil to prevent sticking and squeeze a little oil all over noodles.

For sweets: always tons of Mandarin oranges, tangerines, clementines dotted all over the room. There's also a brown, sticky, glutinous New Year cake (lean gao) which is cut into slices and fried with egg. My mother who is Malay/Portuguese loves to add spice to anything and our favorite was our fresh homemade turnip cake which has dried shrimp, Chinese sliced mushrooms and scallions and steamed. She would slice this and fry with chillies till crispy, delish! Gosh, this makes me so homesick. You can buy this from a dim sum restaurant and do stir-fry at home.

Another tradition is the lacquered candy box. I managed to get one at a Korean market. It has about 6 sections inside a round box and in each you would include chocolate coins in gold wrap and mostly dried candied fruits and vegetables like lotus seed and root, water chestnuts, pineapple, coconut and black and red melon seeds.

A big favorite of mine is getting new clothes though my mother had a habit of buying a roll of material and the seamstress made variations on a theme for each of the 4 girls! My mother was so proud of her idea but it was so embarrassing for us because everyone knew you were related when we paraded down the street. When we got older, we axed this habit but laugh about it now.

Red is commonly worn throughout the Chinese New Year because it is believed that red will scare away evil spirits and bad fortune. In addition, people typically wear new clothes from head to toe to symbolize a new beginning in the new year.

Flower Meanings:

Plum blossom symbolizes luck
Kumquat symbolizes prosperity
Narcissus symbolizes prosperity
Chrysanthemum symbolizes longevity
Bamboo A plant used for any time of year
Sunflower means to have a good year

Lanterns, especially red in different sizes and shapes are hung on the 15th day of celebrations but I put them out during the two weeks.

TIP: Anything I can get my hands on that are red or gold and Asian looking. Posters with Good Luck characters, red knots. The secret is to go to section of an Asian market where you can buy ever so cheaply a big packet of paper cuttings and all sorts of wonderful decorations, paper with gold streaks etc. I even made several scrolls which hang on my walls in my apartment all the time. It's easy - use empty tube containers and brown wrapping paper as my background and cover tube containers on both ends of scroll, then paste the cuttings, etc. on top (see scroll photo). Put brown string through the top one and you're done!

It's good to put a small mirror to ward away evil spirits, also red paper cuttings or posters with Good Luck characters on your front door (see photo) and windows.

Forecast for Rat Year beginning February 7:
On health matters the year 2008 is favorable due to renewed vitality. In romantic involvements, the earth rat year is a good year for marriage and interludes. Nonetheless, earth Rat Year 2008 will be a congenial year that will find most of the people socializing and enjoying themselves with their loved ones.

Celebrity Rats: Louis Armstrong, Shirley Bassey, Marlon Brando, Doris Day, Clark Gable, Hugh Grant, Charlton Heston, Gene Kelly, Glenda Jackson, Kris Kristofferson, Gary Lineker, Sean Penn, Burt Reynolds, Olivia Newton-John, Tommy Steele, Donna Summer, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Kim Wilde, Jennifer Anniston

Compatible with :
Dragon, Monkey, Ox
Less Compatible with : Snake, Dog, Pig, Rooster, Ram, Rat, Tiger
Least Compatible with : Horse

Ideal Job: Financial advisor, Broker, Moneylender, Lawyer, Detective, Antique dealer, Auctioneer, Songwriter, Pathologist.

Positive: Rats can be charming, protective, compassionate, communicative, dynamic, familial, thrifty, skilful, sober upright, attractive, idealistic, prosperous, experimental, calm, sensual, loving, talented, adaptable, open-minded and brilliant entrepreneurs.

Negative: Rats can also be possessive, picky, defensive, excessive, addictive, fickle, stingy, bumptious, bossy, exploitive, anxious, argumentative, opinionated, overbearing and self-obsessed.

Good luck
▪ Opening windows and/or doors is considered to bring in the good luck of the new year.
▪ Switching on the lights for the night is considered good luck to 'scare away' ghosts and spirits of misfortune that may compromise the luck and fortune of the new year.
▪ Candy is eaten to ensure the consumer a "sweet" year.
▪ It is important to have the house completely clean from top to bottom before New Year's Day for good luck in the coming year. (however, as explained below, cleaning the house after New Year's Day is frowned upon)
▪ Some believe that what happens on the first day of the new year reflects the rest of the year to come. Asians will often gamble at the beginning of the year, hoping to get luck and prosperity.
▪ Wearing a new pair of slippers that is bought before the new year, because it means to step on the people who gossip about you.
▪ The night before the new year, bathe yourself in pomelo leaves and some say that you will be healthy for the rest of the new year.

Bad luck
▪ Buying a pair of shoes is considered bad luck amongst some Chinese. The word "shoes" is a homophone for the word for "rough" in Cantonese, or "evil" in Mandarin.
▪ Buying a pair of pants is considered bad luck. The word "pants"(kù) is a homophone for the word for "bitter"(kŭ) in Cantonese. (Although some perceive it to be positive, as the word 'pants'(fu) in Cantonese is also a homophone for the word for "wealth".)
▪ A haircut is considered bad luck. The word "hair" is a homophone for the word for "prosperity". Thus "cutting hair" could be perceived as "cutting away your prosperity" in Cantonese.
▪ Washing your hair is also considered to be washing away one's own luck (although modern hygienic concerns take precedence over this tradition)
▪ Sweeping the floor is usually forbidden on the first day, as it will sweep away the good fortune and luck for the new year.
▪ Talking about death is inappropriate for the first few days of Chinese New Year, as it is considered inauspicious as well.
▪ Buying books is bad luck because the word for "book" is a homonym to the word "lose".
▪ Avoid clothes in black and white, as black is a symbol of bad luck, and white is a traditional funeral color.
▪ Avoid vulgar words. (not only restricted to New Years)

According to the Chinese zodiac, you take on the characteristics of the animal associated with the year of your birth, but those characteristics are also influenced by what time of day you're born, what fixed element you belong to (water, metal, wood, fire, earth), as well as the influence of Yin and Yang.

People born in the Year of the Rat are noted for their charm and attraction for the opposite sex. They work hard to achieve their goals, acquire possessions, and are likely to be perfectionists. They are basically thrifty with money. Rat people are easily angered and love to gossip. Their ambitions are big, and they are usually very successful.

The cunning Rat hitched a ride on the back of the Ox and crossed the winning line first. The Rat was followed (in order) by Ox (Cow), Tiger, Rabbit (Cat), Dragon, Snake, Horse, Ram (Goat, Sheep), Monkey, Rooster (Chicken), Dog and Pig (Boar).

Kung Hei Fat Choy!

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