Celebrate the Chinese New Year

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With cymbals crashing, dragons dancing and fireworks exploding, the Chinese Lunar New Year, this year will be welcomed on Feb. 5.

Celebrated with colorful and dramatic pageantry throughout the world the holiday is especially visible in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

 

San Francisco

As Californians, we don’t need a reason to visit San Francisco, but Chinese New Year is a good excuse.

The Chinese New Year Parade and Festival in San Francisco has been held since the 1860s, and is considered the largest and oldest Lunar New Year’s parade outside of China, and one of the biggest Asian cultural events in North America.

The highlight of this rare nighttime parade is the appearance of an immense 288-foot dragon that requires a team of 180 people to operate.

Named one of the 10 best parades in the world, the Southwest Airlines Chinese New Year Parade will be held Saturday, Feb. 23, at 5:15 p.m.

The route through downtown San Francisco starts at Second and Market streets. goes around Union Square and ends at Kearny Street and Columbus Avenue. The distance of the parade route is approximately 1.3 miles. More than 100 units will appear including floats, elaborate costumes, ferocious lions, exploding firecrackers and of course newly crowned Miss Chinatown U.S.A. and her court. The spectacular Golden Dragon (“Gum Lung”) is carried by members from the martial arts group, White Crane, through the streets. Info: https://chineseparade.com.

Los Angeles

The Golden Dragon Parade in Los Angeles has been staged since 1899, and is the premier cultural event for Southern California’s Asian community. Los Angeles’ Lunar New Year festival also features martial arts demonstrations, art workshops, live music, a culinary stage for cooking lessons and a lineup of acclaimed food trucks.

The 120th Golden Dragon Parade will be held 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9. The parade route begins at Hill Street at Temple in downtown Los Angeles. The parade turns right on Bernard, right on Broadway, back to Broadway and  then Temple. The Freeway 110 exit on Hill Street will be closed between 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Be aware of surrounding street closures. Info: https://www.lagoldendragonparade.com.

Before the parade visit the Chinese American Museum, 425 N. Los Angeles St., L.A., located in the red-bricked historic Garnier Building at El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument across from downtown Los Angeles’ Union Station. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission: $3 adults, students and seniors $2. Info: https://camla.org.

 

Year of the Earth Pig

According to the traditional Chinese calendar, Chinese New Year 2019 will usher in the year of the Earth Pig. The Earth Pig is a representation of diligence, kindness and generosity. In Chinese culture, pigs are the symbol of wealth.

The outlook for the Year of the Pig includes the chance of something unexpected happening. Most people will focus on income, properties, finance and economy.

The pig is the 12th in the 12-year cycle of the “Chinese Zodiac” calendar.

In Chinese element theory, each zodiac sign is also associated with one of the five elements: Gold (metal), Wood, Water, Fire and Earth. In the complicated zodiac calculations an Earth Pig comes once in a 60-year cycle.

The origin of the Chinese zodiac is shrouded in myth. According to one story, the Jade Emperor said the order of animals in the calendar would be decided by the order in which they arrived to his party. Pig was late because he overslept. Another version claims that a wolf destroyed his house. He had to rebuild his home before he could set off. When pig arrived, he was the last, earning 12th place.

The 12-year cycle of the Chinese Zodiac, known as Sheng Xiao, runs in the order of the signs of the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.

 

Chinese New Year Traditions

“Gong hei fat choy” is the most common Chinese New Year greeting in Cantonese, which is spoken in parts of southern China and Hong Kong. It directly translates to “wishing you great happiness and prosperity.” In Mandarin, the same greeting is “gong xi fa cai” (pronounced gong she fa tsai).

Before New Year, it’s important to decorate with flower vases, plates full of oranges and tangerines (symbolizing great happiness) and a tray with sweets with eight kinds of dry fruit. Other pre-New Year activities include cleaning house to chase away bad luck and repainting doors and windows, usually in red.

On the walls and at the doors red paper strips are placed (Chun Lian), on which greetings are written such as: “May you enjoy a perpetual health” or “The Star of Happiness, the Star of Health and the Star of Longevity may shine upon you.”

All debts must be paid by New Year’s Day. Nothing should be loaned on this day, as tradition states that anyone who does so will be lending all year.

It is important that on the first of the Chinese New Year you don’t do anything to chase away good luck, such as cleaning or washing your hair.

At midnight, family members fling open doors and windows to let the old year out.

Chinese New Year is also a time of gift-giving and red envelopes that contain “lucky money” are usually given by married couples to children and to single people. The amount should be an even number, and the numbers eight and 88 are considered especially lucky.

 

Chinese New Year Food

As in most cultures, food plays an important part in the Chinese New Year.

Lucky foods include: Fish which represents “to have enough to also give others,” garlic means “what lasts” and turnips refer to “good premonitions.”

Oranges represent luck. Pomegranates symbolize fertility and the red color thas the power to keep evil spirits at bay.

For many, hot pot is the centerpiece of Chinese New Year dinners.

Chinese New Year Hot Pot

Hot Pot is very easy to make. It’s a bubbling pot of broth and plates of uncooked meat and vegetables. Choose what proteins and veggies appeal to you, toss into the pot, wait for them to cook, then dish it up and eat. Hot Pot can be made to appeal to a variety of palates. It can be spicy or mild.

 

Here’s my favorite:

Broth

3-4 lbs. whole chicken

3 lbs. pork bones

8 cups cold water

Fresh ginger to taste

2 green onions, finely chopped

3 tbsp. chopped garlic

 

Hot Pot add-ins

2 oz. glass noodles

1 lb. beef thinly sliced

Cooked chicken from the broth

2 lbs. Napa cabbage and/or bok choy

Seafood of your choice: shrimp, spot prawns, calamari, mussels, scallops

 

Dipping sauce

1/2 cup soy sauce

3 tbsp. of the broth you prepare

1 tbsp. chunky peanut butter

2 tbsp. sesame oil

1 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 cup ketchup

1/2 cup mustard

 

Place the chicken and pork bones in a large pot. Add enough water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over high heat for 5 minutes

Drain and discard liquid. Rinse the chicken and pork bones. Drain. Return to a clean pot and add 8 cups water. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer. Skim off form as it forms. Cook covered with lid for 2 hours. Strain the broth and set aside. Discard the bones and save the chicken meat for guests to add to their hot pot dish if desired.

Combine the broth, ginger, green onion and garlic in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer for about 30 minutes.

Mix ingredients for dipping sauce.

Keep the broth on a gentle boil/simmer. Place all the raw ingredients you will eat for the hot pot on a serving plate. Have guests line up and cook their meals individually in the broth. Add dipping sauce to top off each cooked dish.

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