Chinese New Year then and now

In loving memory of my late Chinese grandmother, I’m jotting down my childhood memories of Chinese New Year.

After marrying into a Chinese family, I discover even more about Chinese culture since my mother-in-law does an excellent job of upholding tradition.

Chinese New Year Eve food offerings

On Chinese New Year Eve, my grandmother and aunties would be REALLY BUSY preparing all the food for prayers. I can remember seeing something like 3 wooden tables set up in front of the altar where the Kuan Yin (Goddess of Mercy), Tee Kong (God of Heaven) are set up. There is a third statue but I forget who he is…

The tables would contain:

  • 2-3 roast pigs with their heads, legs and tails intact! (ordered from the pig butcher neighbour. I think I loved the salty bits near the bone the best);
  • a few steamed chickens (home grown & slaughtered as my Ahma had a chicken coop next door. I helped feed them a few times but “chickened” out since they stink and also I read that snakes love chicken eggs!);
  • a pot of meatball soup with dried mushrooms, white cabbage;
  • pink steamed plain bao (dumplings)?
  • pink and white sweets/candy shaped like pagodas, animals and etc;
  • platters of fruit usually grapes, apples and oranges;
  • traditional Chinese biscuits twisted like ropes (my Ahma’s favourite snack!);
  • thick, yellow mee;
  • peanuts;

(photo from here.)

Fireworks and fire crackers!!!

A really thick (like a coconut tree trunk?) joss stick with colourful dragon effigy stuck on it would be burning outside the house. While the womenfolk prepared the food and the men helped to carry the heavy stuff, we kids would be outside playing firecrackers!

Boy, do I love the various ones my uncles used to buy (these are the days before the Government banned them) – the boring sparkling sticks you wave around in circles; a “chicken” which lays eggs; those little pods that spark when you throw them on the ground; thin or thick stumps that “poofed” with pink, yellow, green sparks and of course, the traditional RED fire crackers.

Although I hate the loud sound the red fire crackers make, it’s fun watching my uncles / cousins string the ends together to make it as long as possible and attach it to a stick. One uncle would then climb onto a tall petrol tanker to wedge the stick in and light it at around 11.45 pm or so.


Everyone tries to stay up until midnight to welcome the New Year – it’s really fun because my Ahma’s house was in a Chinese village so everyone lounges outside their front door in rattan, plastic or string chairs in their PJs, t-shirts and shorts and slippers!

By 12.10 am, everyone is tired from the excitement and late bedtime. The children troop off to bed while the aunties and uncles help Ahma to clear all the food stuff. The next day, the pig butcher would come over to chop up the roasted pigs and she would distribute them among her neighbours and friends.

On Chinese New Year Day, everyone will wake up a bit late at around 8.30 am or so (except for Ahma who is up by 6 am). She and my aunties would have made the black coffee and prepared / bought breakfast from nearby shops. Or, she’d take a simple breakfast of kaya on white bread.

Then, everyone dresses up in their new clothes and hang around either eating mandarin oranges and other goodies. Ang pows would have been given out by then and uncles who lived elsewhere show up that day. The aunties would show up on the second day according to custom.

I relish those Chinese New Years for the fun of having all my uncles, aunties and cousins together under one roof. We’d just play together or when we became teens, chat or tease each other. It’s been years since I’ve seen some of them – be nice if we could joke and laugh like we did when we were kids.

Chinese New Year at mother-in-law’s house

Each year, I celebrate Chinese New Year at my mother-in-law’s, with some slight variations.

My MIL cooks ALL the dishes for the reunion dinner which include that meatball and mushroom soup, a beef rendang, a beef stew, ngor hiang/lor bak  (minced meat and carrots etc rolled up in beancurd sheets and deep fried) and stir-fry green vegetables.

We’ll all gather around the table and my father-in-law or brother-in-law would bring out a bottle of Australian wine to celebrate. Since I only drink port (or some sweet, non-dry liquor), I’m not THAT excited! My father-in-law would give a little speech and then we eat. As my MIL is a good cook, dinner is delicious.

Day 1

Then, family members sit around and chit-chat with each other. They don’t stay up until midnight and usually by 11 pm or so, everyone’s in bed.

The hardcore Chinese neighbors are still awake and alive – I can hear the usual fireworks.

I’ve asked Hubby before if they played any fireworks (they did) but because father-in-law is a law-abiding citizen, he doesn’t encourage fireworks. Hehehe…I’m gonna pretend I have NO IDEA about this because once he is 4 years old, this Mum is going to get Hubby’s friends to get some fireworks for him!

Boring, right, with no fireworks???

On Chinese New Year morning, we all go to church for Mass. The Mass is quite festive because there are live Chinese cultural performances, hong bao for children and the elderly and mandarin oranges!

Then, we go home and have the Foochow (Fuzhou) meesua cooked in chicken soup, spiked with brandy! Yum 🙂

Family reunion

After breakfast, we wait for visitors because my parents-in-law are the eldest siblings around. They love her mee suah, which is why even though she’s talked of celebrating Chinese New Year elsewhere many times, she can’t bear the thought of her visitors arriving at an empty house.

We used to have many visitors because they still practise the “open house” concept and I had fun helping to serve the people drinks, food, oranges, cookies and sweets. When you visit my in-laws’ home, you get a proper lunch or dinner!

Visitors can enjoy white rice with her beef stew, beef rendang, lemang, satay, stir fry veggies, ngor hiang/lor bak and even a chicken curry if she’s up to it. Entertaining visitors for “open house” is a new experience for me as my parents are not that sociable.

Hubby and I would then help father-in-law wash the plates and cups…

On the second day, we will visit Hubby’s uncles’ and aunties’ houses, which is quite fun because we get to see what “new” activities or items they’ve got after a year of not seeing them. Hubby’s family is quite a jolly bunch although they lapse into Fuzhou language every so often.

Sometimes, Hubby or mother-in-law or cousin will translate but often, it’s just a bunch of bad words scolded in reaction to something someone said! That’s the beauty of the Fuzhou language…

Day 2 – Feasting

We’ll be booked for dinner at least 2 nights because our in-laws or the aunties or uncles will organize a dinner at a restaurants. Knowing this pattern after a few years, I’ve learned to ensure that I’ve got decent outfits for these outings. No t-shirt or jeans allowed here!

Day 3 – Visiting (bai nian)

On the third day, we’ll go visiting Hubby’s friends’ homes only after checking with in-laws that NO auntie or uncle has invited the family to the home. Through the years, I’ve come to know Hubby’s friends and their wives as my friends although it’s weird to only meet them once a year. They are a fun group though with really interesting characters.

And there you have my Chinese New Year then and now.

Now that I have a kid, I believe that the boy will have fond memories of Chinese New Year thanks to my mother-in-law. He certainly likes Christmas for the family gatherings so I wonder what he thinks of Chinese New Year…

We’ll know soon 🙂

Here’s wishing everyone a happy Chinese New Year! Xin Nian Kuai Le!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • misting Link

    “The tables would contain” ? This english correct or not? One time my son wrote exactly like this and kena scold lerr..

  • I’m sure your kid would enjoy Chinese New Year and have good memories of it. I remember my mum constantly reminding my brother and I to not argue or say any foul words especially on the first day because she’s superstitious about it. so, it is only on the first day when my brother and i would make more jokes as usual, play a little trick here and there because we know our mum can’t be mad… but then, we grew up, and yet, we still do it… once in a while to remind ourselves of the cny spirit.

    by the way, this layout is very nice. =) Happy Chinese New Year!

  • Kit Link

    Misting – You’re right! It’s wrong…I just typed this in quickly without editing. Guess I used it in the context of Excel tables. It should just read as “The tables had…” or “The tables were laden with…” Thanks for bringing it up.

    Esther – Hahaha I remember this taboo alright. Both my Ahma and MIL go by it too but mostly for the word “die”. 😛 Thank you for your kind words about my blog. Happy New Year to you and your kids too.

  • Kitty – my condolences to you and your family for the passing of your granma.

    by the way, please feel free to correct my engrand ok.

  • a-moms-diary Link

    Your grandma CNY celebration was totally grand. My CNY had always been pretty simple, both as a child, and now with my in-laws.

  • mumsgather Link

    What lovely memories. Its good to make it memorable for our kids too the way it is for us. 🙂

  • syn Link

    you didn’t have the gambling & drinking sessions? yours then sure made mine looked very loud and rowdy and i don’t mean the firecrackers! hehe…

    and yours now is sure to envy coz it’s sound so much fun than what i have with my in-laws. mine now is so quiet (and boring) compared to my then loud and rowdy cny.

    ur right abt what our kids r missing now…i love the firecrackers we had then!

  • Paik Ling Link

    Wow your CNY was sure really grand! I only look forward to returning to my parents’ house on #2 day for yummy food!

  • Hi KittyCat, yes, I too remember those days, and waiting for midnight…then let go firecrackers.
    And eating the foods. Nice pic.

    Kong hei fatt choy to you and family, best wishes, Lee.

  • JJ Link

    Me too miss Ahma so much. I am telling my SIL and hubby those days how I celebrate CNY with Ahma, being so busy yet having so much fun. Still remember those days before CNY, I am busy baking varieties of cookies, kuih kapit, etc. My in law doesnt like crowds. No more gambling session. What a boring CNY.

  • huisia Link

    kids tend to love Christmas more than CNY, maybe Christmas has present but CNY angpows definitely must save into bank, haha..they hardly enjoy any cent! maybe this is a reason..

  • Gong Xi Fa Cai, everyone! Sorry I can’t reply to each comment…too sick 😛