Chinese New Year

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Written by Mary McConville

Photography by Anh Luong

When the new moon appears on the first day of the Chinese New Year, celebrations will begin and then continue until the full moon appears 15 days later. The Chinese calendar is based on both lunar and solar timing so that the New Year is a moveable feast. This year in Melbourne (2015 – the year of the goat) the festivities will fall in the middle of February.

Melbourne’s Chinatown and many suburbs with a large Asian population will be organising public festivities, including the ever popular dragon dance. A local dignitary will dot its eyes which will awaken it and it will dance through the streets, occasionally climbing the walls to reach the cabbage (and money) left out by generous locals.

As well as the public festivities open to all there is a lot of private fun with feasting and visiting. The ancestors will be honoured on New Year’s Eve with a dinner laid out  on the family table, called ‘surrounding the stove’ or weilu.

In the following days living relatives and friends will visit and are given a variety of traditional and symbolic foods. Oranges and tangerines symbolise abundance and happiness, probably because they look like lumps of gold, while ginkgo nuts symbolise ingots of silver and a whole chicken (with head, tail and feet) represents prosperity.

As well as serving food that represents wealth people also serve dishes symbolising other desired qualities. A whole fish represents togetherness and long noodles symbolise long lives. The one food that is not served is fresh tofu as white is the Chinese colour of mourning.

During the 15 festive days of the Chinese New Year, different things are celebrated on different days.

As mentioned previously, on New Year’s Eve people serve dinner to their ancestors.

On the first day the gods of heaven and earth are honoured. No meat is eaten.

On the second day people pray to their ancestors. They are also extra kind to dogs as this day is considered the dogs’ birthday.

On the third and fourth days sons-in-law visit to pay their respects.

On the fifth day everyone stays home to welcome the god of wealth and it is considered bad luck to go visiting.

From the sixth to the tenth day everyone visits their relatives, friends or the local temple.

On the seventh day the emphasis is on farmers who will display their produce and make a drink from seven vegetables (Is this the original 7 Up?). Raw fish and long noodles are served and this date is considered the humans’ birthday.

On the eighth day people have another dinner especially for family and at midnight they make their prayers to Tina Gong, the god of Heaven.

On the ninth day, offerings are made to the Jade Emperor.

From the ninth to the twelfth day it is usual to invite friends and family around to dinner and to serve simple food, which is probably a relief after all the previous rich food,

On the fourteenth day preparations are made for the fifteenth day when everyone ends the festivities at night with the Lantern Festival.

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