Gung Hay Fat Choy! 恭喜發財!
Today we welcome the Year of the Pig, the last animal in the Chinese zodiac.
The celebrations for my family started last night, as they always do on Chinese New Years Eve. It is our tradition that the family always eats together on Chinese NYE – we always overindulge on foods that we don’t normally eat during the year, and we always make plans to do it all over again the following night on Chinese New Year proper.
I can still remember the New Year celebrations from my childhood spent in Hong Kong. Mum would take us to the shops and buy new dresses for us before NYE. NYE dinners were usually held at Dai Guoo Mo’s house (Dad’s eldest sister – 大姑母). After dinner, Mum would make all of us take baths and showers, so that we would be fresh and clean in the morning. There is an old wives tale that one shouldn’t bathe nor shower on New Years Day, as it would wash away all of one’s luck and fortune for the coming year (in reverse, one should bathe and shower before bed on NYE, so as to wash away all the bad luck from the previous year and not take it into the new year). To this day, I still observe this tradition. I would always be the last one to fall asleep on NYE, so excited by the prospects of wearing my new dress, seeing all my uncles and aunties and cousins, and being able to eat anything and everything that is put in front of me.
Lin Chau Yut (New Years Day – 年初一) would dawn bright and early for us, and in our pyjamas, we would rush over to Dad and Mum and wish them a happy new year and good health and prosperity for the coming year. Dad and Mum would give us red envelopes with money (which we would then rush to put under our pillows for good luck) and wish us good health and good grades for the coming year. We would then get dressed to spend the day with Yeh Yeh (爺爺) and Ly Ly (奶奶).
Yeh Yeh and Ly Ly had a house in Kowloon, and the house would be filled with relatives from 8am to 10pm catching up with each other and relishing the opportunity to be all at one place together. We would all line up, in age order, to file past Yeh Yeh and Ly Ly to give them our best wishes, and they would give us red envelopes. You can just imagine how hard it was for me and my sisters, being the youngest 3, to come up with anything original after 60 adults have said their pieces!
There would be games of mahjong being played (Ly Ly loved her mahjong) – to this day, I still associate the sound of mahjong tiles clashing with Ly Ly and the happy bantering around the mahjong table. While the adults played mahjong and chatted, my sisters and I would spend the day wandering through the gardens at the house, looking at the gold fish in the pond with big waterlilies, teasing the Dobermans that were caged up in their kennels, running away shrieking with terror when the Dobermans barked viciously back at us. There would be food laid out throughout the day, and no one would stop you from stuffing your face and belly with all those deep fried goodies and sweet treats that were only eaten once a year at Chinese New Year. A roasted suckling pig would be the centrepiece for dinner, with its crispy crackling skin and tender meat and a plum dipping sauce, followed by more courses than you can imagine.
Lin Chau Yee (second day of Chinese New Year – 年初二) would always be spent with Gong Gong (公公) and Por Por (婆婆) (Mum’s father and mother), at Back Gong (伯公) and Back Por’s (伯婆) house (Gong Gong’s older brother and sister-in-law). They had a massive place in Happy Valley, and the celebrations would be held there on an annual basis. The house would be overrun with the extended families of Gong Gong and his 2 brothers, including a fleet of children playing rowdily at everyone’s feet. My cousins on Mum’s side of the family are all my age and younger, unlike my cousins on Dad’s side who are all at least 10 years older than me, so we always looked forward to being cheeky and naughty with the other kids on Lin Chau Yee. Back Por was famous for her buffets and we would feast on Po Kok Chicken (my favourite) and other goodies.
When my family and I moved to Australia in 1983, these gatherings were what I missed the most. I have not had the opportunity to experience these gatherings again, and I dare say I never will – my grandparents are all long gone and the rest of the extended families are now scattered all over the world. But I have those lovely memories and hope to start new traditions that my niece and nephews will fondly recall when they are older, as the magical time that is Chinese New Year.