The Chinese Lunar New Year

“It’s the year of the snake!” That’s according to the Chinese Zodiac (there are 12 animals in all). And the Chinese recently celebrated the “Lunar New Year” (what the Chinese New Year is often called). According to their calendar, it is the year 4710 or 4711, depending on whom you’re consulting. Other Asian countries celebrate this event, too, with fireworks, burning incense, and serving tea to honored guests.

2010 Menghai “Dragon Pole” Ripe Pu-erh tea cake

A full-blown Chinese New Year celebration lasts 15 days, with events like these (abbreviated for space):

Day 1 – Create noise with fireworks, etc., to chase off evil spirits and let the good deities of heaven and earth descend. Concerns for fire hazards has led to large-scale fireworks displays being launched by governments in Hong Kong, Singapore, etc. Buddhists abstain from meat to ensure long and happy lives. Families visit the oldest and most senior family members to honor them. Family members present red packets full of money to younger family members.

Day 2 – Married daughters visit their birth parents, relatives and close friends. People pray to ancestors and gods. Cantonese business people start their business on this day so they will be blessed with good luck and prosperity. Some believe this is the birthday of all dogs and remember them with special treats.

Day 3 – Sons-in-laws pay respect to their parents-in-law. Rural villagers burn paper offerings over trash fires. An unlucky day to have guests or go visiting. This is also considered a propitious day to visit the temple of the God of Wealth and have one’s future told.

Day 4 – Same as Day 3 in many communities. Some communities celebrate the Chinese New Year for only two or three days, so the fourth day is for corporate “spring dinners” and business returns to normal.

Day 5 – Avoid visiting families and friends lest it bring bad luck. This is the God of Wealth’s birthday. In northern China, people eat dumplings. In Taiwan, businesses traditionally re-open on the next day, accompanied by firecrackers. People often shoot off firecrackers to get Guan Yu’s attention, ensuring his favor and good fortune for the new year.

Day 6 – Visit relatives and friends, and pray in the temples for good fortune and health (goes on thru Day 10).

Day 7 – Traditionally known as the common man’s birthday, this is when everyone grows one year older. Farmers display their harvest and make a drink from 7 different vegetables. People eat noodles for longevity and raw fish for success, continued wealth, and prosperity. Chinese Buddhists avoid meat.

Day 8 – In the Fujian Province, people have a family reunion dinner, and at midnight pray to Tian Gong. Others hold a family dinner to celebrate the eve of the birth of the Jade Emperor, the ruler of heaven. Most return to work, and store owners host a lunch/dinner. Some people will hold a ritual prayer at midnight. In Malaysia, people light fireworks.

Day 9 – Chinese offer prayers to the Jade Emperor of Heaven, since this is traditionally his birthday. (There is some dispute between countries on if this is the 9th or 10th day of the celebration.) In the morning, Taiwanese households set up an altar table with foods, paper lanterns, sacrifices, and wines to honor minor deities. Tea is served for paying respect to an honored person.

Day 10 – Friends and relatives are entertained and served dinner. The Jade Emperor’s party is also celebrated on this day.

Day 11 – Same as Day 10.

Day 12 – Same as Day 10.

Day 13 – Many dine on simple rice congee and mustard greens (choi sum) to cleanse the system after all the rich food enjoyed during the previous days. This day is dedicated to the General Guan Yu, also known as the Chinese God of War, born in the Han dynasty. He represents loyalty, strength, truth, and justice. Many people look at him as the God of Wealth or the God of Success.

Day 14 – Prepare for the Lantern Festival.

Day 15 – Celebrate the Lantern Festival. Rice dumplings called tangyuan (a sweet glutinous rice ball brewed in a soup) are eaten. Candles are lit outside houses as a way to guide wayward spirits home. Families walk the street carrying lighted lanterns. In Malaysia and Singapore, this day is celebrated by individuals seeking for a love partner.

Your celebration can be less elaborate, focusing on teas and treats. Some foods are symbolic:

  • oranges and tangerines for abundant happiness
  • lotus seeds for many male offspring
  • ginkgo nuts represent silver ingots
  • candied melon for growth and good health
  • lychee nuts for strong family relationships
  • coconut for togetherness
  • peanuts for long life

Red is a color that to the Chinese denotes good luck, good fortune, abundance, and happiness, so include a bit of red in your New Year’s Teatime. Teawares, table linens, or even foods dyed red will do the trick.

Other tea choices that would be appropriate:

  • 2010 Golden Eyebrow Lapsang Souchong Black Tea (“Jinjunmei”) — This tea is made completely of tea bud tips that must be picked before “Tomb-sweeping Day” from a rare and primitive species of wild tea which grows on mountains in the National Natural Conservation Area of Wuyi Mountain at an attitude of 1500 to 1800 meters. The manufacturer of this tea rigidly adheres to the traditional hand-made processing technology of bohea lapsang tea. Golden eyebrow Lapsang has unique characteristics, such as tight, slender and gold-yellow, black tea leaf, bright golden tea liquid, mixed aromas of fruit, flower, honey, and potato. This is the rarest Lapsang Souchong black tea in the world.
  • Certified Organic Jasmine Pearl Green Tea — A smooth tea with delicate flavor and an enticing jasmine aroma. Made to the highest standard.
  • 2010 Menghai “Dragon Pole” Ripe Pu-erh tea cake — The Menghai Tea Factory has created a very special recipe with this premium grade ripe tea. The tea cake is smaller in diameter but thicker than the average cake, so it still yields 357 grams. The Dragon Pole recipe uses an extremely high-grade maocha – a semi-aged, Menghai-area ripe material that delivers a thick and full mouth-feel with lots of texture. Comes in a gift box that will be wrapped in a way to optimize (but not guarantee) survivability in the postal system.

And if you decide to make some noise to keep those evil spirits away, try a tin whistle or some other kind of noisemaker other than firecrackers.

About Janice and Stephen Shelton

Purveyors of Premium Teas
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