Starweek Magazine

Xin nian kuai le

The Philippine Star

True to ancient wisdom, the cold has set in – sort of, or about as cold (not hot might be more accurate) as it gets in our part of the world, considering climate change and El Niño. In Chinese this is known as the Major or Great Cold, the last of 24 solar terms which this year began on Jan. 20 and ended Feb. 4. Many areas of mainland China have been under a severe cold spell, with even southern cities like Guangzhou experiencing snow. This in turn has wreaked havoc on transport systems, with planes grounded and trains unable to keep their schedules, stranding hundreds of thousands making their way home for the holidays. A photo of the Guangzhou train station I saw on BBC online showed a sea of people like the Rizal Park during the Black Nazarene traslacion. 

The annual lunar new year travel in China has been called the world’s biggest annual human migration. Officials estimate up to three billion trips will take place over the holiday season this year. This mad frenzy to get home for the new year is rooted in the tradition of having the entire family gather around the familial hearth for this most important and auspicious celebration. My grandmother seriously frowned on any suggestion that since having everyone in for dinner at home was too much of a bother, why don’t we just eat at a restaurant – the suggestion was not repeated – the point being that everyone should be at home for this very significant meal on the last day of the year (di-gao meh or 29th night, the last month having just 29 days).

Being the current keeper of our family hearth, I’m having my small family – including, of course, Poopie the pomeranian and Poowie the yorkie – in for dinner tonight. The food on the new year’s table has been a work in progress over the past two weeks, changes made depending on what was available in the market and from my sukis in San Juan and Binondo. (The trick is to decide and buy early to avoid the expected rise in prices as the new year draws near.)

While we do not subscribe to superstitions about “lucky foods,” there are dishes that are de rigueur more because of tradition than anything else. A whole fish (I found a beautiful apahap [sea bass] at the market and this year I’m keeping fins and tail intact), sticky or glutinous rice (to keep the family members sticking together; the tikoy or nian gao will do just fine, although I’m having eight treasure sticky rice as well), meat served whole rather than chopped up (a whole duck or chicken rather than chicken wings, for example) and of course sweets to end the meal to leave a sweet taste in the mouth as you welcome the new year.

Let me now leave you with good wishes and happy thoughts as I’d better get busy in the kitchen – my soup pot’s a-boiling (my family’s so-called “prosperity” soup) but there’s still plenty cooking to be done. So, from my family’s hearth to yours, kiong hee huat tsai (in Hokkien), gong xi fa çai (in Mandarin Chinese), xin nian kuai le, happy lunar new year!

The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving towards all he has made. The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look up to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving towards all he has made.  Psalm 145:13b-17












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