Celebrate the Chinese New Year with Your Family

by Culinary Spelunker / Feb 08, 2016 /
Culinary Spelunker's picture

Welcome to the year of the monkey! February 8th marks the beginning of the Lunar New Year, celebrated by people throughout the world, especially in China. The 15-day festivities are a time to come together with family, express gratitude, and look forward to another year. In some ways, it’s like the American version of Christmas, New Year’s, and Thanksgiving Day all rolled into one, long celebration.

Great Wall of China. From Celebrate the Chinese New Year with Your Family - recipes and traditions

The Great Wall of China

What do we love about the Chinese New Year around our house?

Many of the celebrations revolve around food. Different dishes carry their own meaning and symbolism.

Celebrate the Chinese New Year with Your Family - recipes and traditions

Fish

One popular New Year’s dish, for example, is a whole fish. In Chinese, words that sound similar are often used to represent each other. Since the word for fish and longevity echo one another, serving fish at New Year’s has come to symbolize prosperity. Chinese families will prepare a whole fish to serve during their celebrations. To ensure that everyone in the family received good fortune for the New Year, each member takes a bite, but some of the fish is leftover. After all, you wouldn’t want all your good fortune to disappear.

Dumplings

Dumplings are another lucky food prepared with added care for New Year meals—and they carry several different meanings. The half-moon shaped goodies, usually stuffed with minced meat and seasonings look like the shape of ancient Chinese coins. Because of their unique shape, dumplings symbolize wealth. One custom notes that the more dumplings you eat during the New Year celebrations the luckier you’ll be. I’m not quite sure about that idea. Dumplings also represent family togetherness. Here’s my theory as to why: Dumplings involve an arduous process. While one person could make them it’s easier to craft them with several people to help—enter family members. That’s how we made our trays of dumplings. I couldn’t find circular-shaped dough pieces (and I wasn’t up for making my own) so we settled for triangular dumplings that we decided could mean that good luck was coming to us from all sides. Okay, that story needs a little work. But hey, you’ve got plenty of time to come up with your family’s symbolism while filling dumplings. Here's a traditional Chinese recipe for dumplings.

Celebrate the Chinese New Year with Your Family - recipes and traditions

Making dumplings

Meatballs

Not surprisingly, with their mix of ingredients, meatballs have come to illustrate reunion. As with dumplings, it takes time, patience, and several family members to put together meatballs. We chatted as we rolled out two full plates of ginger and scallion-spotted pork meatballs. The recipe would have been tedious and dull to do alone but together with my girls we had a great time rolling out the balls and then frying them until crisp.

 

Here’s our recipe for Shanghai-style Chinese meatballs.

To celebrate the New Year at your house, consider serving several dishes or foods and look up their symbolism. Chinese is rich with tradition, so you’ll find even simple items like an orange, grapes, or apple hold special meaning. You don’t even have to break out your wok if you don’t want to.

You might also look at the Chinese Zodiac together. A different animal represents each year based on a 12-year cycle. Look up with your kids what animal was the sign for their year and what qualities are purported to go along with that animal. 

Celebrate the Chinese New Year with Your Family - recipes and traditions

A traditional, formal Chinese meal

 

Kristen J. Gough is the Global Cuisines & Kids Editor for Wandering Educators. She shares her family's adventurous food experiences--and recipes--at MyKidsEatSquid.com.

 

All photos courtesy and copyright Kristen J. Gough