I have memories of sitting in a room full of family, surrounded by an assortment of fruit and holiday food, and being handed red envelopes (ang bao as we called it at home) as a young girl. School was always canceled during the Chinese New Year in the Philippines, and having both a Chinese and Filipino background made this winter holiday special every year for me and my family. 

The story recalls the Race of the Heavenly Gate. The Jade Emperor needed 12 animals to be his guards, so he would award the first twelve animals that made it to the Emperor's palace. These animals now comprise the zodiac calendar, which switches every year. 2018 is the Year of the Dog, holding the eleventh position in the zodiac, and supposedly those born in the Year of the Dog are exactly what you'd expect from a man's best friend: kind, honest and prudent. 

The Lunar New Year is arguably the most important holiday in China and one of the most celebrated holidays in East Asian countries. Upon coming to UC Davis and being exposed to people of different cultures, I was intrigued by the different ways that the New Year is celebrated, but I was mostly excited by the different foods that come with it. 


Saying: Gong Xi Fa Cai, Kung Hei Fat Choi

Foods: Nian gao (rice cake), Yu (fish) 

The Lunar New Year, or Chinese New Year as some would call it, is extremely festive in China, involving dragon dances, firecrackers, new clothes, money envelopes and a tradition of sweeping the house to rid the old and welcome the new. Nian gao, rice cakes, correlates to the phrase, "nian nian gao sheng," which means "increasing prosperity year after year." It also has to do with the rice harvest in the spring.

Fish, on the other hand, is associated with the phrase, "nian nian you yu," meaning "may the year bring prosperity." It is steamed with ginger and soy sauce and eaten as a symbol of prosperity. It is also often eaten whole as a symbol of unity


Saying: Chuc Mung Nam Moi

Foods: Banh chung (steamed square cake), Gio cha (sausage)

Banh chung (steamed square cake) is traditionally eaten during Tết (the Vietnamese Lunar New Year) to symbolize the Earth. Banh chung is prepared with glutinous rice, mung bean and pork and is usually wrapped in banana leaves. Vietnamese sausage, gio cha, is either boiled or deep-fried. Sticky rice, xoi, which is eaten with gio cha, is the main staple food for the holiday, as part of the meal eaten to worship ancestors. This dish is favored for its red coloring, which symbolizes luck for the New Year. 


Saying: Saehae Bok Manee Badesaeyo

Foods: Tteokguk (rice cake soup), Manduguk (dumpling soup)

Traditionally, the Korean Lunar New Year is all about family and paying respect to their ancestors. Traditional games are played and money is gifted to children. Similar to that of the Chinese, tteokguk is a Korean rice cake soup where the rice cake resembles old-style Korean currency, symbolizing wealth and prosperity. There is also manduguk, a Korean dumpling soup, where the dumplings are considered "money dumplings." 

The Philippines

Saying: Kung Hei Fat Choi

Foods: Tikoy (sweet rice cakes), Hopia (mungbean pastry)

The Lunar New Year which is celebrated in the Philippines takes after the southern part of China, where most Chinese immigrants in the country are from. Sweet rice cakes, tikoy, are eaten in varieties such as chocolate or ube (purple yam). Hopia, a Chinese-Filipino mungbean pastry, are also served as a symbol of good fortune. Filipinos like to pay off their debts at this time to start fresh for the New Year. 


Saying: Gong Xi Fa Cai

Foods: Pineapple tartsYusheng (Chinese salad)

Sweet treats, such as rice cakes and pineapple tarts, are given out as well as any sort of souvenir inscribed with the character "fu," which means good luck. Most Chinese restaurants in Singapore will serve yusheng, a traditional Chinese salad prepared with raw fish, shredded vegetables, sweet sauces, and sesame oil. Each ingredient signifies a token of wealth and prosperity, such as a fried wonton garnish, which resembles gold

To all of you who celebrate the Lunar New Year, I wish you the best of luck, love, wealth and prosperity. I hope you all get your rice cake fix (I know that I'll be longing for mine). Eat well, and as I would say it, Kung Hei Fat Choi!