Chinese New Year occurs between January 21st and February 20th and continues for 15 days into the first month of the New Year. This year is the Year of the Goat and those born in Goat years are considered calm, gentle, creative and honest. Chinese New Year is the traditional time for families to gather, enjoy each others’ company and celebrate with lots of food. Chinese communities celebrate in Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and in Chinatowns all over the world. Because my staff is like family, I love to treat them to a Chinese New Year’s banquet on the first day, which this year fell on February 19. We gathered at a well-known Chinese seafood restaurant here in the San Gabriel Valley, which is ground zero for the Asian community in Southern California.
The whole idea of celebrating Chinese New Year is to share abundance, which is exactly what we did. We had all my favorite foods for the holiday, including a variety of dim sum, steamed salty egg bun, shrimp dumplings, juicy pork dumplings, fried chicken feet, whole fish, long noodles with lobster, sweet and sour pork, deep fried tofu, garlic bok choy and a delicious selection of sweets. Most of these delicacies have meaning and are symbolic of our hopes for peace and prosperity in the New Year:
Another tradition I love at Chinese New Year is the giving of gifts. Wrapping money in red packets represents good luck and happiness to the receivers. I give my staff a token amount of money in red envelopes decorated with gold to wish them well for the New Year. Most people keep the envelopes unopened for the whole year, because the red envelopes are as lucky as the money in them.
To add to wishes of good fortune, each year I follow the custom of displaying and giving gifts of oranges and tangerines grown organically in my own citrus groves near San Diego. The fruits are at the peak of ripeness this time of year and I enjoy the opportunity to share them with friends, family and colleagues. The Chinese words for gold and orange sound alike, while the word for ‘tangerine’ sounds like the word for ‘luck.’ To make the gift even better, I keep the leaves attached as that symbolizes longevity. Many people also like to give pommelo, a very large citrus fruit native to Southeast Asia. They are bigger and sweeter than a grapefruit and the Cantonese word for ‘pommelo’ sounds like the words, ‘prosperity’ and ‘status.’ Delicious food shared with friends and family along with the symbolism of each dish gives practically every bite meaning. That is what I have always loved about Chinese New Year.