Gung Hay Fat Choy! Technically it’s the lunar new year celebrated by various Asian cultures, but I will always think of it in the traditions on which I was raised so it’s Chinese New Year to me.
It’s been a fantastically fun weekend for me. My family came in from Vegas and we feasted on Saturday night in Ly household fashion – call it our Mardi Gras because we eat vegan on the first day of New Year. All my life the refrigerator has been filled with various fresh ingredients and I’ve been spoiled by mom’s cooking. Saturday night featured fried catfish with various fresh mints, rice noodles tomatoes and cucumber, all wrapped in rice paper and dunked in a sauce. There was also a seafood platter with abalone, mushrooms, and sea cucumber on a bed of vegetables.
Having stuffed ourselves on this wonderful meal and having laughed ourselves silly, we began the pre-New Year’s routine of cycling everyone through the shower before midnight (you don’t want to wash your New Year’s luck away). This is no small feat with the number of people in the house and only two bathrooms. Since as far back as I can remember, the first two go in to shower. If they’re not done within a reasonable amount of time, they are informed that their time is up with a gentle pounding on the door. As soon as they are out, we yell “NEXT” and the cycle continues. This year, my husband and I were smart enough to hit the gym before dinner and shower there, so we had plenty of hot water and could shower at our leisure. Next year, I vow to bring a nice big fluffy towel for myself as I did this year, but I will actually remember to bring it into the bathroom with me so that I can use it to dry off. It was chilly and paper towels worked, but it was quite an arduous task!
We all retired late in the night but were back at it early New Year’s morning (well, some at least). We usually start with a breakfast of rice and various vegan dishes which are typically variations on a tofu/bean curd theme. These are imitations of beef, fish, chicken, and then plain tofu and vegetables. After breakfast is done, the adults give out lì xì and our family gets ready to go temple hopping. It’s a lot of fun despite the parking problems and the crowds.
We go from one temple to the next, praying and pausing for fireworks displays, martial arts exhibitions, and dragon dances. The martial arts exhibition was well under way when we arrived and the dragon dances followed. Two to three dancers usually make up one dragon and there are several of them in a group. After showing off for a bit, they will approach the crowds filled with eager children and adults holding up envelopes of lì xì. The dancers grab the envelopes through the mouth of the dragon as people reach out hoping to touch the dragon to gain some extra wisdom.
Everybody will get a bundle of incense to light as they go into the temple. There are multiple candles for use, although most end up crowding around the same one for some odd reason.
You light the incense and hold it high above your head so as not to burn the person in front of you. Sometimes this means that the person behind you drops ash from their incense on your clothes and burns a little hole…my husband got that prize this year. You weave your way through the various altars making your prayers and adding your incense, but you have to be careful not to burn yourself on falling ash. As Eddie placed one of his incense, he didn’t see the one next to his hand and put it out with his thumb. Burn! He was promptly informed by my niece that this seals his luck in, so there’s his silver lining.
It’s all about family folks. And mine is pretty awesome. Happy new year everyone!