[This was written about a week ago!]
Many of my expat friends as well as my friends back in Canada have asked me this question many times ‘What is it like to celebrate Chinese New Year in Taiwan?’ – What exactly does it entail? What specifically is expected of you as a host? How do you prepare to welcome the New Lunar Year?
And in all honesty, not much is expected of me. However, I thought I would write a post that gives a run-down of a typical Chinese New Year’s Eve at our house, the C’s! [As I mentioned before, the feast has been held at our house since we moved in.]
The day prior to the holidays, my husband’s youngest brother, G, returns (well, to our house) to avoid the traffic and the ‘three people in a car’ policy to get on the major freeways in Taiwan.
Lunar New Year Eve is all about family! My mother-in-law, Mrs. C, is up at the crack of dawn and heads to the local morning market to buy freshest produce for the feast that will be held later that evening. She has spent a week or two prior to Chinese New Year’s Eve devising a menu to ensure that all are accommodated, more specifically the daughter-in-laws. She will usually enlist the help of my husband or her youngest son to assist her.
Then, she starts the preparation phase of the meal. All vegetables are cleaned and cut, all herbs and other ingredients are washed and chopped, and all meat is rinsed and cut into bite size pieces. I will usually help with this phase of the meal and I usually assist her in getting any ingredients or utensils she needs. During this phase, my husband’s two oldest brothers and their families are making their way to Central Taiwan from Taipei.
The dishes that take the longest to cook (usually soup which needs to slimmer for hours) are the first to be attended to. Then, it is on the cooking the other dishes. Most are fried using a wok and some are boil. Taiwanese never bake anything, so an oven is never used.
Most dishes for the feast are prepared by early afternoon. They are then loaded into the car(s) and taken to an altar located at my husband’s childhood house. Usually, my husband’s oldest brothers and their families are waiting there for us. The food is used as an offering to their ancestors. The food is placed on the table in front of the altar and each member of the family ‘bai bai’s (prays/worships) to their decreased family members by holding three incense sticks.
Some time is given for the ancestors to ‘enjoy the offering.’ During this time, it is an opportunity to chat with other family members who are also there and catch up with them.
Two crescent wooden pieces are then thrown to see if they are finished. When the wooden crescent pieces are thrown and fall on opposite sides (one up and one down), it is time to burn the ghost money. Then, the food is once again packed into the car and we make our way back home.
While the food is being reheated and some other dishes are being cooked, there is a giving of ‘hong bao’s (red envelopes) containing money. The amount of money enclosed varies but typically the money is new and crisp, often referred to as ‘lucky money.’ I often reminisce about receiving my first red envelope during this time.
My husband’s niece and nephew are the recipients as well as my mother-in-law. I always get one from my husband as well! 🙂
Then, the feast begins. All ten of us gather around and enjoy the huge feast prepared. It is a nice time to catch-up, chat, and talk.
When the meal is finished, most family members watch a movie while I do the dishes and my husband prepares for the mahjong game with his former classmates, which usually starts around 8 that night.
And I end the night by curling up in the comfy chair in the sunroom with a book and a glass of wine.
Happy Lunar New Year! Gongxi Fa Cai! Happy Year of the Goat!