Tuesday, 13 February 2007

The Season of Receiving

Chinese New Year (CNY) fell on the 18th February this year and lasts for 2 weeks. It is by far the biggest event in the Chinese cultural calendar and has numerous rules, expectations, rituals and general fuss associated with it. The council has been stringing up lanterns around public areas and holding switching on events together with the obligatory lion dance.

It's difficult to summarise the affair succinctly but to say it is a time of renewal comes close. Debts are cleared, the house tidied, new clothes bought (all new wardrobe is possible) and symbols of prosperity are created. And there are many of the latter, including oranges, pineapples & fish salads.

The fish salad (lo hei or yu sheng) has a complex history but has more recently become codified into a standard which is available at all restaurants as a solid money earner especially for the business crowd as suppliers take customers out and lo hei while expressing hopes for big money contracts.

The calendar for CNY is roughly:
day before: family reunion dinner at restaurant; give red packets of money
Day 1: Mostly stay at home, or visit elders
Day 2: Visiting day, ritual trouping around relatives with biscuits, presents, red packets
Day 3: No visiting relatives, but may visit ancestor's graves
Day 7: more lo hei
Day 9: Big in Hokkien culture (hence Singapore) to venerate the Emperor of Heaven
Day 15: Normal end of official CNY, may have lantern festival.
Day 16: (start dieting).

I tried to figure out the rule for calculating the date (based on the incredibly complicated
lunisolar calendar) but failed. Better to just use an almanac. The only thing to remember is that it is never 1st Jan, so people with birthdays early in the western year cannot use those simple "what Chinese animal are you" charts without remember to check the exact date.

So what's it all about? A season of giving? goodwill? happiness? Not really, more of paying respect to family and ancestors and doing everything humanly and divinely possible to wish for financial prosperity in the coming year. A heartfelt season of receiving.