CHINESE LUNAR NEW YEAR FESTIVAL
by Richard White
For most Calgarians, New Year’s Eve is a night of celebration associated with drinking and partying, but for our Chinese community, it is a two-week celebration with food, family and wishes of good health and prosperity. Also called Spring Festival, it is celebrated from the first day of the first lunar month, which varies each year based on the Gregorian calendar. This year it starts on February 5th.
The first day, called Lunar New Year, is the most important day of the year for Chinese family reunions. The last day is when the Lantern Festival takes place to signal the end of the Lunar New Year celebrations; this is when children go out at night carrying paper lanterns and solving riddles on the lanterns. Lunar New Year is traditionally celebrated at the oldest living family member’s home. Typically, more than 10 dishes are prepared for the feast, though that number varies with the number of family members in attendance. Two weeks prior, much preparation happens – families clean their house of garbage and bad omens of the previous year and they wear new clothes and shoes to welcome in the new year. Tangerines and oranges are passed out freely during the entire two weeks as the Chinese words for tangerine and orange sound like the words for luck and wealth respectively.
2019: YEAR OF THE PIG
Chinese (Lunar) New Year in 2019 is on Tuesday February 5th and it is the year of the Pig. The Pig is the last animal in the Chinese zodiac and is part of a 12-year zodiac cycle. In fact, there are five types of Pigs – Gold, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth, which are part of a 60-year cycle. 2019 is the year of the Earth Pig. People born in 1959 or 2019, are cooperative, communicative, popular among friends and punctual. They are born lucky in life and are well versed in managing financial issues. Earth Pigs become rich in middle age due to their hard work in earlier years and can expect to live in abundance during old age. (Note: Just because 2019 is the year of the Pig, doesn’t mean Chinese families will be eating extra pork dishes this year.)
I’m not aware of any other culture where food, language and symbolism are linked with family traditions as they are in Chinese culture.
CHINESE (LUNAR) NEW YEAR IN CALGARY
Because Chinese New Year is traditionally a family event, it is most often celebrated at a restaurant. However, if you are interested in experiencing a Chinese New Year’s Dinner in Calgary, your best bet is to get a ticket to the Sien Lok Society’s New Year Gala Celebration. This year’s dinner is on Saturday, February 2 at the Regency Palace restaurant. This year is the 50th Anniversary, get your tickets early as it sells out quickly. Link: eventbrite.ca/e/sien-lok-societys-50th-chinese-newyear-gala-celebration-tickets-50327953263
Terry Wong, Executive Director of the Chinatown Business Improvement area, suggests trying Silver Dragon, Golden Inn or Culture Centre restaurants for a traditional dinner. Tang Dynasty and Great Taste will have a Northern China style meal, while T Pot and Regency Palace are your best bet for “hot pot” fondue delicacies, and Calgary Court and U & Me offer a contemporary Hong Kong café twist.
Two Penny, at 1213 – 1st St. SW, is also a good bet. Last year they offered a Chinese New Year’s dinner banquet with dishes like Shanghai Noodles, Ling Cod Soup, Crispy Chicken, Dim Sum, Gai Lan, Mandarin Meringue Tarts and more, daily, during the two week New Year’s celebration. Dinner guests were also treated to receiving the customary red envelopes with special prizes inside. Though most of the prizes were small, one larger prize was given out each day. This year Two Penny is excited to celebrate the Year of the Pig in 2019. It will kick off celebrations on February 5th until the 15th with a banquet menu, in a similar format to this years’ CNY offering but with an evolved menu of Two Penny signature dishes, and a few celebratory dishes, made special for the occasion. This menu will be a great option for group dining, and similar to last year, there will be a few elements of surprise and delight, along with some wonderful cocktails and tea to pair with the meal. It will be around $45, a steal of a deal for the kind of meal being served.
It is customary on New Year’s Eve to serve FISH at the end of the evening meal to symbolize a wish for abundance in the coming year. The word for fish, “yu,” sounds like the Chinese words for “wish” and “abundance.” The fish, served whole, with the head and tail attached, symbolizes a good beginning and ending of the coming year.
JAI, a vegetable-only dish (also known as Buddha’s Delight) is popular on New Year’s day given the Buddhist tradition is that no animal or fish should be killed on
the first day of the lunar year.
LETTUCE WRAPS are popular because the Cantonese word for lettuce sounds like “rising fortune.” Often, they are filled with DRIED OYSTERS as the words for “dried oysters” sound like the word for “good.”
LION’S HEAD MEATBALLS are popular as the “lion” represents power and strength in Chinese culture, while oversized meatballs symbolize family reunion.
SPRING ROLLS AND EGG ROLLS are served as they symbolize wealth because their shape is similar to that of gold bars.
SWEET AND SOUR PORK is popular with families hoping for a lot of grandchildren, as the Cantonese word for “sour” sounds like the word for “grandchildren.”
And then there are LONGEVITY NOODLES. Symbolizing a long life, they are not to be cut!
The popularity of NIAN GAO CAKES is due to their sweetness which symbolizes a rich, sweet life, their layers representing a rising abundance for the coming year, and the round shape signifying family reunion.