Well by now you should have recovered from your Nian Ye Fan on New Year’s eve but like most of us, the Chinese New Year’s Eve reunion meal was probably only the beginning of the traditional indulgences this holiday week.
Many Americans compare the Spring Festival celebration to our Thanksgiving holiday because it focuses on the family and is not necessarily a religious holiday. With this in mind I decided to look at the ancient New Year’s celebration, specifically the food, and compare it to what are now considered the traditional foods of Spring Festival.
Chinese New Year or Spring Festival which is the more modern label for the holiday, like most things in China dates back over more than a 1000 years to the Shang dynasty but surprisingly the important food traditions have not changed much.
The most important meal of the holiday is on the eve of Chinese New Year. The Nian Ye Fan or reunion meal is for the family and includes the best foods that the family can offer with the last dish of the meal always being fish (yú: 魚). The fish dish represents abundance with the hope that the family will have much wealth during the coming year. As such the fish dish in not completely eaten, ensuring surpluses for the coming year. Besides by this time in the feast, if the host planned right, the guests should be full.
The fish dish might symbolize the hope for prosperity but what good is money if you don’t live to use it? Tradition has taken care of that problem for us too. During the first five days of the New Year be sure to eat long noodles, and by all means don’t cut them before you eat them. The noodles symbolize long life and of course if you cut them you are “cutting your life short”. Prosperity, health and family are the themes of the holiday and many meals are planned to share with family and friends.
At the final meal on the last day of the holiday, known as the Lantern Festival (十五暝), the important foods are round. This meal will include dumplings and special soup with round glutinous rice balls called tāngyuán (汤圆). The round shape mirrors the full moon, which should be appearing around this time and is a sign of family togetherness that does not end. Quite a sweet way to conclude a holiday that brings a family together once a year.
However you spend the Spring Festival, may it be the start of a year of Good Health , Good Food and Prosperity!
Eat Well, Live Well, Have Fun!