New Year Celebrations
The Chinese New Year is an important eastern celebration and the time of year when Chinese families reunite and honor their ancestors, carry out special rituals and traditions and send wishes of prosperity and good fortune. The country literally will close down for the first 4 or 5 days of the festivities with many businesses staying closed throughout the entire 15 day celebration. Transportation systems across China will be burgeoning with travelers heading home for this important event.
Food is at the center of the festivities. But not just any food, dishes symbolize hope for good fortune for a positive year ahead.
This is a fun time to gather your family and friends for a New Year party. One way to celebrate the holiday is to hold a Chinese tea tasting. Keep it simple or go all out to kick off the Year of the Rat. Try our easy to use guide to hold your tea tasting.
Chinese Tea Tasting Guide
Tea & Food
Foods are highly symbolic and an important part of this festive occasion.
Tea Tasting Tips
- Select 4-6 of our suggested teas.
- Greet guests with a cup of tea that has been prepared ahead and re-heated as suggested.
- If you don't want to prepare a meal, schedule your tasting in between major meal times so guests don't expect lunch or dinner.
- Either way, have light snacks out for guests to nibble as they drink their tea. Almond cookies can be prepared ahead and kept fresh in a sealed container.
- Rice crackers with nuts and other pre-made items can be found at Chinese markets.
- Don't forget fortune cookies, they are always fun.
- Steamed dumplings are an easy, more substantial addition. Frozen dumplings are available at Chinese markets and are stuffed with various ingredients for flavor variety. Dumplings do not re-heat well! They are quick to prepare so steam and serve immediately.
- Edamame is another simple snack, not traditionally Chinese, but a fun snack your guests will enjoy.
- Include candied or dried fruits.
- Orange and tangerine sections would also be traditional to serve.
- Gather the items you will need the day before. Make sure you have teapots, filters, strainers, cups and dishes for wet and dry leaves, a timer, a kettle and additional containers to heat water on the stove.
- Set up a special "tasting" table where guests can see and take part in the tasting. Remember preparation can get messy so be ready for drips and spills.
- When you begin your tasting get your guests involved by preparing the various teas so that they can see you.
- Pass around dry tea leaves on plates for guests to see while the tea is brewing.
- Once the tea is brewed, pass around the wet leaves for a comparison.
- Know what types of tea you are preparing- black, green, oolong etc. and be sure you have brewing tips and times down.
- Taste the teas hot and then after they have cooled a bit and discuss the differences.
- Not everyone will like everything and that is part of the fun.
Decorations, Favors and Entertainment
- Scatter bowls of oranges, complete with leaves if possible, symbolizing relationship security.
- Decorate using fresh flowers and live plants representing life and rebirth.
- Red is the color of the New Year and represents prosperity. Use red napkins, a red door hanger, red table coverings; incorporate the color anywhere possible.
- Keep things festive and use in-expensive bamboo steamers of different sizes to serve dumplings to guests.
- Entertain guests with lunar calendars and animal profiles.
- Give guests small red envelopes used to symbolize your sentiments of good fortune and prosperity to the recipient.
Sharing the Chinese New Year with friends and family is fun, tasty and rewarding. Read a first-hand account of this historical celebration through the eyes of Amy Zhang
, who manages our office in China. She shares her fondest memories of celebrating with her family as a child and how the holiday is evolving in China today. Read Amy's story.
ADDITIONAL FOOD MEANINGS
During this special time the Chinese like to celebrate with a bounty of different foods, each symbolizing something different for the upcoming year.
A whole braised or broiled fish, to signify togetherness, or a noodle dish to impart wishes of long life and health.
Offering many different types of foods at celebrations symbolizes an abundance of happiness, wealth and successes in the year to come.
While the Chinese are certainly not big into sweets at the New Year cakes and other sweets emulate rising fortune, and enhanced sweetness of life.
Some additional foods the Chinese prepare for luck and prosperity include:
Lo Han Jai - vegetarian stir-fry dish with root vegetables, lotus, ginkgo nut, black moss seaweed, dried tofu or bean curd, bamboo shoots, can include cabbage and mushrooms. Saute vegetables with soy sauce and sesame oil, add chicken broth and cornstarch to create a sauce.
Black seaweed and oysters
Sticky Rice cake - (Neen Gow, Nian Gao)- steamed fruitcake made with glutinous rice flour.
Turnip cake - savory cake typically made with seafood, Chinese sausage, vegetables and rice flour.
New Year Salad - typically serve don't he 7th day to celebrate "everyone's birthday"- Raw whitefish salad, with citrus fruits and crunchy vegetables.
- dried oysters and seaweed are cooked with soy sauce to create a savory sauce and served on blanched lettuce or cabbage.
To learn more about what really goes on in China, then and now, I decided to talk with Amy Zhang who runs our Shanghai office. Amy was kind enough to share with me her personal memories and experiences about the New Year and her candid sentiments on how this special tradition has changed.
The Spring Festival, the popular modern day term used for the holiday, is the most important festival for the Chinese people and the time when all family members get together, just like Christmas in the West. Everyone travels home for the holiday making this the busiest time for travel, overloading airports, rail stations and buses for close to half of a month.
The Spring Festival falls on the 1st day of the 1st lunar month and it's believed to have originated in the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC- 1100 BC) from the peoples' sacrifice to gods and ancestors at the end of an old year and the beginning of a new one. While the festival last fifteen days, the most important of these is New Year's Eve and the three days following. The country has a national holiday that lasts seven days and there is a mandatory closing of businesses and government during this time.
Many of the customs that accompany this holiday are still followed but others have weakened. Placing red decorations on doors and windows and lighting firecrackers originated as a way to scare off monsters. Today hanging red scrolls and red paper cut outs send messages of good luck, harmony, prosperity and peace for the year ahead. Firecrackers, the custom most often tied to the celebration, was banned sometime ago as officials took security, pollution and noise into consideration. They have been replaced by soundtracks, balloons being popped or most often hanging decorations that look like fireworks.
Prior to the festival, many families make laba porridge, a delicious porridge made with glutinous rice, millet, seeds of Job's tears, jujube berries, lotus seeds, beans, logan and gingko. There are eight ingredients in the porridge signifying family togetherness, safety, wealth and happiness.
Preliminary Eve, on the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month, families make delicious food to enjoy, but this used to be the time when the sacrifice to the kitchen god took place. This was when my grandmother would make a special cake called "hearth cake" and she would use a special sugar made of maltose and gingeli named "hearth sugar," this cake and sugar was used to symbolize feeding the god of hearth assuring more food for the family in the coming year.
"Seeing in the New Year" begins after that. This is a time when stores are bustling and everybody is out purchasing necessities for the upcoming celebration. They buy rice, flour, chicken, duck, fish, meat and fruits, candies and various nuts. They are also buying decorations for the house, shoes and clothing for the children, as well as gifts for friends, relatives and the elderly. In China red means "new" and "lucky" and many of the clothing and decorations purchased will be red.
Before the arrival of the New Year people clean their homes from top to bottom, inside and out. Once spotless, the decorating begins creating an atmosphere of rejoicing and festivity. All the door panels will be adorned with Spring Festival red scrolls with Chinese calligraphy expressing the home owners' wishes for a bright future and good luck for the New Year. Pictures of the god of wealth will also go up on front doors to ward off evil spirits and welcome peace and abundance.
The Chinese character "fu", meaning blessing or happiness, is a must. The character is displayed right side up or upside down. Upside down fu or reversed fu means "fu comes" so either way good wishes are articulated. Two big red lanterns are raised on both sides of the front door and red paper cuttings and bright colored New Year paintings with auspicious meanings are hung in windows and on walls.
People attach great importance to the Spring Festival Eve and families will eat a more luxurious than usual dinner together. Dishes with chicken (ji), fish (yu) and bean curd (doufu) must not be excluded from the meal because for the Chinese these mean auspiciousness, abundance and richness. In my family, the gatherings were held by my grandmother. My father would hang the pictures of the gods on the eve of the New Year while my grandmother baked flour cakes shaped like different animals.
Under my grandmother's direction, both my mother and father would prepare chicken, fish, fruit, dumplings and candy as an offering to the gods and my ancestors as a way of honoring them. The entire family would pray together humbling ourselves before pictures of both gods and ancestors where we had offered up the food. After praying, we began our celebratory meal together and when finished we would sit together chatting, drinking tea and watching TV.
More recently the Spring Festival Party is broadcasted on China Central Television (CCTV) and is essential entertainment for Chinese people both at home and abroad. Customarily each family will stay up to see the start of the New Year.
When I woke up on the day of the New Year I got dressed up in my new clothes and my first greeting of the day was to my parents. We always ate dumplings that day and all the children received gifts from parents and grandparents wrapped in red paper. Sometimes we would receive money in red envelopes. The eating and celebration continued with many great dinners that include regional dishes that were meaningful and delicious. These few days are spent having fun with relatives, friends, colleagues and classmates and we exchange the gifts that we have selected and chat leisurely.
The lively atmosphere not only fills every household, but permeates to streets and lanes. A series of activities such as lion dancing, dragon lantern dancing, lantern festivals and temple fairs are held. The Spring Festival then comes to an end when the Lantern Festival is finished.
My grandmother passed away many years ago and with her passing many of the rituals that I knew as a child also left us. Praying to our ancestors and the gods is not done in my family anymore as many of the younger generation do not remember how to celebrate the gods as it was once done.
The New Year celebration in China has become much less about the old ways and is more about consuming the days with shopping at the malls to buy different kinds of gifts and clothes. It's a pity that the important holiday traditions have become weak but I will always have wonderful memories of the past celebrations with my grandmother which someday I hope to pass on to my own family.
What Lies Ahead in the Year of the Rat?
The Rat is the 1st Sign of the Lunar Cycle and this year is the year of the positive Earth Rat. The last time we were in a positive Earth Rat cycle was February 10th, 1948 to January 28th, 1949.
Coming off of 2 consecutive "Fire" years life may seem calmer during this Earth year. The Rat never stops moving, especially when it comes to mental activity so don't be deceived by the calm.
Mixing of the Rat's fixed element water and the earth element of 2008 none of should rely on luck this year to get us through. Alternately, the Earth/Rat combination creates a great balance between the risky Rat and practical and stable Earth element. This balance creates positive results leading to good profits, increased productivity and other positive achievements.
The first sign in the Chinese zodiac the Rat symbolizes new beginnings. So this is a good year to start new ventures and look outside the box. It's the perfect time to try new ideas, create a new direction in your personal or business life or venture out with new ways of doing things. Experiment a little; there are plenty of opportunities to find success. And with Earth's influence there could be fewer scandals than in other Rat years.
This is an equally good time for thinking and all kinds of intellectual endeavors. Planning, scholarship and research, for example, are favorable activities. It is also an auspicious time for the arts; although, under Earth's influence, applied arts such as design and graphics may do best.
Earth favors those who are tied to the land, do a lot of routine work, deal with practical matters, or perform work of a spiritual nature. Looking at the characteristics of both Earth and Rat it could be a very good year for those with careers in business, construction, engineering, academia, planning and the clergy.
Because there is likely a strong focus on career and self improvement this year be careful not to let family fall to far from your radar. Be attentive and creative with your time creating ways to spend time with them while achieving your own successes. Speaking of family this will be a good year for new romantic endeavors and taking existing relationships to the next level.
2008 holds many possibilities and represents a time of new beginnings, progress and achievements. Earth's practical influence will make 2008 a well balanced year with little to no spectacular events or elements. This is definitely a good year for adding something new to your life.
Consider what you are serving and select teas that will compliment your function. Some teas are better than others for preparing ahead to be re-heated and that has been indicated below.
Black teas are perfect to accompany sweets and are darker and more full bodied.
Organic Golden Monkey
Delicious with sweet tones this tea is best served hot and can be prepared 30 minutes prior to serving.
Keemun Mao Feng
A traditional full bodied black tea that is best served immediately.
The original Lapsong Souchong tea this has a slight smokey character with sweet background notes. Historically significant, this is one of the teas thrown off the boat at the Boston tea party. Can be prepared 30 minutes ahead.
Red Dragon Pearl
A beautiful tea that is lovely to brew. Black tea with sweet notes and a medium body. Best served hot and can be prepared 30 minutes ahead of time.
Lychee is sweet and goes well with meats. It can be served hot or cold and can be prepared 30 minutes ahead of time.
Oolong teas vary in character, leaf style and taste. A fun, interesting category for tastings!
Organic Shui Xian
An exceptional tea with terrific digestive properties, perfect after heavy meals. Best served hot and not prepared ahead. Do not let this tea steep to long and do not use boiling water.
Ginseng Oolong This sweet, light brew is terrific served with rice dishes and salty foods and can actually replace dessert.
Green teas are a great compliment to your tasting or celebration. While they range in character green teas have a lighter body then black teas.
A traditional, sweet floral tea that goes well with fish. Light and refreshing and best served hot and not prepared ahead.
This traditional mint tea is refreshing, can be served hot or cold and is great prepared ahead of time.
One of China's most famous teas this exceptional flat leaf tea has a slight woody tone with hints of mild sweetness. Best served hot and not prepared ahead.
White teas have a mild, delicate flavor with many different tastes and regional nuances.
Organic Jasmine Silver Needle
An exceptional bud or needle tea that is perfectly scented with organic jasmine flowers. Sweet notes and a smooth body, this has a more robust body then the jasmine green tea. Best served hot and not prepared ahead.
Organic Bai Mu Dan
This is a traditional Chinese white tea with a full body and earth tones. Can be served hot or cold, do not prepare ahead.
Herbal tisanes can help bring a soothing element to your guests' fast-paced lives, providing both great taste and health benefits.
Organic Chrysanthemum Flower the only tea the Chinese drink cold this soothing light brew is not sweet like jasmine and does not have the same floral notes rather a simple character.
Year of the Rat - February 7th 2008
The Chinese lunar calendar originates back to 2637 B.C. and Emperor Huang Ti who first introduced the idea. The calendar is based on a complete 60 year cycle made up of 12 year cycles. Each year within the 12 year cycle is represented by an animal. The first of the 12 year cycles is the year of the rat. We are in the 78th 60 year cycle which began February 2nd, 1984 and will end in the year 2044.
The Legend of the Animals
There is a story attached to every historical event or happening in Chinese history and the "year of" animals are no exception. Legend has it that the Lord Buddha summoned all the animals to bid him farewell before he departed to Earth. 12 animals showed up, and so he named a year after each of them.
Similar to the monthly characters in the western horoscope, the animal that rules over the year of your birth is believed to strongly influence your life. The Chinese believe that the animal of your birth year "hides in your heart" determining many of your personality characteristics and even some of your physical attributes. What animal hides in your heart?
Along with the animal and there fixed element, that rules over your year there are elements assigned to each year that are also taken into account - Earth, Wood, Metal, Fire and Water. So 2008 is not just the year of the rat but an earth rat year.
How Will The Rat Affect You?
If you are a Rat
This is your year! And its action time for the ambitious rat. Temptations will be abundant so stave off the urge to be unfaithful in all your endeavors. Showing steadfastness and loyalty will be will rewarded and you will find yourself surrounded with friends, wealth and abundant happiness.
If you are a Ox
The always steady, well balanced Ox will work hard this year as always. 2008 will bring much reward for all your efforts bringing you prosperity and happiness. A year of choices can cause conflict within yourself and with others but stay the course and avoid disturbance, 2009 is your year, wait until then to make big decisions.
If you are a Tiger
The feisty Tiger must keep strife and adversity to a minimum, avoiding arguments and focusing their natural high energy on useful, worthwhile projects. Stay close to family and home for a calmer journey this year.
If you are a Rabbit
The restless Rabbit must resist the urge to avoid problems facing any situations head on. This is a good year for ringing the changes, and rabbits who switch careers, living arrangements will find themselves rewarded with comfort and prosperity. 2008 is also a fertile romantic breeding ground for the Rabbit so look for fulfilling entanglements.
If you are a Dragon
The Dragon and the Rat are good buddies, and 2008 is the perfect year for Dragons. Give wings to your dreams; this is the year to chase your greatest desires. From love prospects to professional success your friend the Rat is going to be good to you. Dragon's will find themselves surrounded with both new friends and fresh, positive opportunities.
If you are a Snake
2008 is a blockbuster year for Snakes! Slither toward all the opportunities that come your way both personally and professionally. Strike out at wealth and love particularly as it is almost guaranteed to go your way.
If you are a Horse
As a horse in 2008 you will be best served staying close to your stable and family. Avoid new romances as you may become saddle with something other than what you had hoped for. Consider business proposals carefully this is not the year for risky propositions. Stick with the comfortable, familiar pastures and enjoy this year with family and friends.
If you are a Ram
The Ram should spend 2008 preparing the groundwork for future successes. Open yourself up to new experience's this year after all it is the first year in the lunar calendar representative of new beginnings and new experiences. Avoid hasty decisions and listen closely to family and friends who have only your best interest at heart and bring many intuitive ideas for your future success.
If you are a Monkey
Monkeys will find a jungle full of banana's this year and are urged to pick and eat them. An abundance of opportunities head your way throughout the year with the best of these coming to fruition in the second half of the year. Romantic matches and personal wealth prosper in this fruitful time for the monkey so pick wisely.
If you are a Rooster
Bursting with energy the rooster will be spending much of 2008 trying to calm their abundant energy. Meditation and centering practices will aid the rooster in achieving positive results in the year ahead. Avoid conflict at all cost both at home and at work, acting thoughtfully and calmly in every situation.
If you are a Dog
The dog will have good fortune in the year ahead. You will find prosperity and new friendships in 2008. Stray away from home and take chances to seek out the special opportunities the rat has in store. Be a bold, confident puppy and turn problems into opportunities. Self assuredness will bring positive results in love so step out and be the "best of show!"
If you are a Boar
The successes and prosperity from 2007's Year of the Boar will roll over into 08. This year will be easily successful for the boar with all areas of your life feeling the love. Romance is definitely in the cards, and wedding bells could follow not far behind. Think that's enough, well the rat doesn't, the Boar will experience even more good fortune in financial opportunities quickly increasing wealth and status.
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