It's that time of the year again. Chinese New Year is upon us. The year of the ram is coming to an end as we prepare to move into the year of the monkey. To us, Chinese New Year has always been the most important and celebrated time of the year. Families get together, feasts are had and the smell of incense wafts through the air as we pay homage to the gods and our ancestors.
Chinese New Year Preparations
Chinese New Year isn't just one or two days. The actual period of celebration goes on for 15 days. You see all the festivities around like dragon and lion dancing and various festivals put on by councils. But the most telling signs of Chinese New Year happen around the house and preparations begin well before new years day. There are numerous customs and rituals a family must go through.
The house needs to be cleaned by a certain date; hair cuts and new clothes bought; woks seasoned (at least in Cantonese households they do) – this involves deep frying a bucket load of Chinese pastries and saying a few prayers for good fortune this upcoming year (note: this last ritual I only found out about when I visited southern China a few years ago during Chinese New Year).
Seasoning the wok (image courtesy of WeChat)
Then there are fireworks and fire crackers on new years day and throughout the two weeks, the constant smell of incense in the air – that, to me, is the smell of Chinese New Year.
Image courtesy of iStock photos
The best part used to be the red packets – bundles of cash older relatives used to hand out to us kids. But now that we're married, the tables have turned and it's now time for us to dish out the red packets. And when your extended family consists of countless little cousins, nieces and nephews, you know this isn't going to be cheap.
A time for customs and rituals
But I digress – Chinese New Year is still a very special and important time of the year for us. The younger generation visits the older generation, bearing gifts of biscuits, fruit and other such similar things. One day you'll be visiting relatives from your father's side, the next will be relatives from your mother's side. And the first thing you say to them is – "gong hei fat choi!" Or "gong xi fa cai!" You'll stay for a while, catching up over tea before its on to visit the next relative and repeating the process all over again.
But amongst all the festivities, it's also a time for customs, rituals and reflection. Going to temples to pay homage to our ancestors and to the gods; lighting the incense and making offerings of fruit at the family shrine – performing these rituals every year gives us a moment to pause and reflect on what has been and what is to come.
Do I actually believe that praying at a temple will make a difference? Maybe, maybe not. It's not so much the belief though but the process and the actual rituals themselves that bring about a sense of calm and serenity. The same calmness that comes with brewing good quality loose leaf tea, gongfu cha style.
Chaozhou gongfu cha
I guess this is one of the reasons why we love to brew tea gongfu style. Not only does it allow us to focus on the different characteristics of great quality tea, it also forces us to slow down and be mindful of the actual brewing process as well. The process itself is just as important as the resulting tea.
In any case, I hope the year of the ram was a good one for all and here's to hoping that the year of the monkey brings with it even greater fortunes. Happy new year everyone! Gong xi "fat chai"!