Q1: What does Chinese New Year (“CNY”) mean to you?
Q2: Do you enjoy CNY? Why?
Q3: What are your hopes for CNY?
These were the questions posed to a number of friends who celebrated Chinese New Year, (19 people of Chinese descent (3 living overseas), 1 Korean and 1 Japanese). Surprisingly, the answers given by the Chinese for Question 1 and 2 were quite uniform. The the key words in their responses were Family gathering, Reunion Dinner, Friends, Food and Angpow. In essence the answers all revolved around the whole Chinese tradition of the homecoming, gathering of the family and relatives from near and far, culminating in the Reunion Dinner.
As a friend aptly put it “CNY means meaningful gathering to celebrate and welcome the first day of the Lunar Year”.
There were stories about the prep-work for CNY celebration, the spring cleaning, clearing out the mess, baking cookies, getting ready traditional foods and gifts, buying new clothes, shoes, painting houses, hanging out the red lanterns, new notes for angpow and putting up the decorations.
Then about the CNY celebration proper, many shared their precious memories of CNY past with grandparent, parents, uncles (some already passed on), aunts, siblings, cousins, nephews, and nieces. One friend living abroad shared with nostalgia those CNY celebrations of old that he will greatly miss and will cherish for the rest of his life.
Another shared that the gathering on the eve for the Reunion Dinner is to forge the family bond further and a time of thanksgiving too. This theme was echoed by many others. Many shared of family bonding, renewal of relationships and catching up.
Visiting relatives during the CNY period, meeting up with friends, was also high on the agenda. Even the Japanese friend shared of reunion with old friends.
And then there was the Food! After all, the Chinese are famous for living to eat and not eating to live! Almost everyone shared of eating and eating until they are full and satiated, including the Korean and the Japanese friend.
CNY is a time for Yee Sang (the tossing of the yee sang amidst shouts of blessings), steamboat, chap chai (vegetarian meal on chor yat the 1st day), cookies, pineapple tarts, nian gao, turnip cake, sweets, bak kwa and everything that is savoury, sweet, umami, tasty.
Then there are fireworks, lion dances. Chinese dress everything red and loud. Angpows received by the children, singles, and the elders. CNY is also a time of giving gifts to relatives, friends and others who may not be so well-off so that they too can enjoy a good CNY.
Besides sharing happy memories there are some stories of bittersweet moments of misunderstandings between family or relatives; stress of dealing with too many people.
For many, in answer to Question 3, their hopes for CNY was more bonding with family and friends. And appreciation of the time with family – how many more reunions does the future hold? Many hope to see the family grow in strength, unity, and abundance. Many pray for good health, for peace, harmony, and prosperity. Some who are work-wearied appeal for more rest.
Can we have too much fun and food? We all know the answer: a Yes and a No. CNY only comes once a year, we should just celebrate as much as we can. However, we shouldn’t be too excessive lest, we upset the balance sheets or our health (and the health of others).
My concern actually is “can we have too little fun?” Is it possible for us to miss out on the joy of celebrating CNY in earnest, when we eat with little enjoyment, greet the family and relatives with little enthusiasm (even grudgingly), celebrate with trepidation? Are we guilty of just taking a small bite out of this life in celebration? Must we be seen to be modest proper “Christians” all the time?
I have heard of some Christians who claim that CNY is religious and we should only celebrate “Christian” holidays? Some others have commented that by putting up red decorations makes CNY akin to the Jewish Passover.
I am no theologian, nor do I profess any religious training. I am just interested to find out – should we let our hair down or only hold back? In other words, does God look down with dismay or disdain when we are having good fun and celebrating? Then I came across a lovely tradition in the Bible, it is the celebration of Purim in the book of Esther.
After the Jews were saved by Esther from genocide, it is written in Esther 9:18
“The Jews in Susa, however, had assembled on the thirteenth and fourteenth, and then on the fifteenth they rested and made it a day of feasting and joy.
That is why rural Jews – those living in villages – observe the fourteenth of the month of Adar as a day of joy and feasting, a day for giving presents to each other.
Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.”
This Purim celebration in the month of Adar is a celebration in Spring every year. In the book of Esther, the words “days of feasting and joy” appear 3 times, and of giving food and presents to each other. And the best part of this is – Purim is mandatory!!! Hooray! To me, Purim sure sounds like Chinese New Year. In fact even in Israel and America today, Purim is celebrated with gusto. They have a lot of drink and food. Some even observe a vegetarian meal just like us. They have a carnival and parade. The Jews really know how to party. I would like to take a leaf out of the Jewish good book and celebrate CNY with relish too.
In Psalm 23: 5, the psalmist writes:
- “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil and my cup overflows”.
This is a depiction of the Great Banquet to come where we sit in the presence of our enemies. There are many interpretations about the true meaning of this verse. I can’t deny that in this life, we may have some enemies. However, sometimes during CNY, it may seem a little awkward to sit with a “difficult relative/ person” aka as “enemy”, but when “that enemy” is seated at our table and food and drink is shared, perhaps differences can be put aside, forgiveness proffered, a release of all things bad. An enemy no longer, but a friend.
Many blessings for CNY 2023 ! Gong Xi Fa Cai to you!
 Japanese normally celebrate the reunion of families during Jan 1st to 3rd.
 This is mostly a Malaysia/Singapore custom of tossing of a salad, with raw fish/jelly fish/abalone, yelling “Yee sang” (homonym for abundance and excess) while following the tradition of tossing “lo hei” (meaning to rise).
 A steamed sticky glutinous rice cake. Nian gao is a homonym for “higher year” which means a better life and luck in the coming year. – see Niangao- CNY cake . chinatravel.doc.com
 A meat jerky
 Red packets containing money.
 An Ancient Christian Secret found in every CNY celebration by Dr Eugene Back – BacktoJerusalem.com
 Purim in 2023 falls on 6 and 7th March.
 5 things to know about Purim, the most fun Jewish Holiday.
 They eat a special cookie called hamantaschen: triangle-shaped cookie. It is shared to look like Haman’s tri-cornered hat or his ears. Just like we eat Nian Gao (there are 3 nian gao legends – see 3 nian gao legends that make the sticky cake even sweeter – by Amanda Chai SG Magazine). The Koreans eat teokguk and play a game called Yut