Gong Xi Fa Cai, pronounced “Gong Hey Fat Choy” in Cantonese, means Happy New Year. It’s a phrase that I learned early on as a small child. One of the very few and most important phrases my mother taught me in her maiden language. She’s from Hong Kong and even though she’s been in the states for over 40 years, Chinese New Year is still the most important celebration for my family, it even trumps Christmas and Easter!
This is not surprising though as China considers this their most important holiday. In fact, it’s also the longest holiday spanning 15 days total! Every year is celebrated on a different day since the holiday is based on the ancient lunar calendar, which translates to sometime between January and February. The tradition started as early as the 14th century B.C. and is still celebrated traditionally today even though China adopted the western calendar. This year is the year of the sheep although you may hear it being called goat or ram as well. Since the Chinese language has so many different translations all are used depending on the region you are in.
My family observes several traditions and superstitions which are both hilarious and heartwarming. These tend to include a very large dinner with only very close friends and family, not washing your hair, cleaning before the New Year, and sleeping with money under your pillow. My mother will cook traditional dishes including a whole steamed fish, shrimps & scallops, bok choy, sea moss, black mushrooms and other favorites. The significance in these dishes range from long life to prosperity for the new year. Lucky money is given to all the children for luck and good fortune. The money is placed in highly decorated red envelopes and then given on both the eve and day of the New Year. We place the envelopes under our pillow and open them the next day. I still look forward to my envelope every year!
If you get the opportunity, wish someone a Happy New Year. It is such an important event to Asians and has so much meaning and tradition associated with it that I’m sure you’ll get a smile in return!!