Lunar New Year, when the city is in its most festive mood, is coming in a few days’ time.
Time flies. So far, I have enjoyed more than 60 Lunar New Years.
All the memories are beautiful.
When I was young, my family would buy new fabric and start making new clothes for us in the 11th month of the lunar calendar.
I maintained this ritual until I was more than 20 years old, buying myself some new clothes from retail stores.
My mother would become so caught up in preparations after the 16th day of the 12th month.
Nonetheless, she would spare some time to buy each of us a ceramic piggy bank so that we could save up the money from the red packets we would receive during the New Year.
On the 27th day of the 12th month, no one could escape doing the household chores.
On the 28th, my mom would start deep-frying all kinds of delicious goodies, such as peanut dumplings, red bean dumplings, sweet egg twists, round dumplings and arrowhead slices.
I always loved watching my mom cook, and invariably, I would secretly help myself to a piece or two of freshly deep-fried red bean dumplings.
The 29th was our family’s steaming day, when my mom, aunts and their maids would make turnip cake, taro cake and, of course, nin gou (year cake) in the kitchen.
The cakes were all very heavy and took up to a few hours to be ready.
Turnip cakes were the all-time “bestseller”, and my mom would steam a few more so that each of us could take some home with our own families after we got married.
The 30th was the busiest day, because of the important New Year’s Eve reunion dinner.
It is not an easy task to prepare a meal for a family of 20.
Gathering all the necessary ingredients — chicken, fish, prawns, roasted pork, dried oysters with black moss, Calmex abalone, pig tongues — from the market was a heavyweight mission.
Nevertheless it was worth the effort, as every dish carried its own auspicious meaning.
The highlight of the day was my father handing each of us a red packet containing HK$5. Back in the 1950s, it was a small fortune.
My mom would then start the worship ritual at 11 o’clock sharp.
By contrast, the Lunar New Year’s Day lunch was comparatively simple and eaten before noon, as the entire afternoon would be fully occupied by visits from relatives.
New Year’s Day was always the best day to harvest red packets; however, the money never went into the piggy as planned.
When I grew up and had my own family, there’s one ritual that I never changed: playing mahjong at my maternal home for three days.
The year that was least like the Lunar New Year of my youth was probably the year I migrated to Australia.
My mom had migrated to Canada in the 1990s, and it happened that my daughter was studying on the East Coast of the United States, so I urged her to celebrate the festival with grandma, uncles and aunts in Toronto.
Now everyone is old, and especially my mom.
We have started to dine out in restaurants for the New Year’s Eve reunion dinner and New Year’s Day meal.
But I still treasure the memories of the old good days, when everyone squeezed into our small home to enjoy the wonderful dishes prepared by my mom.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 4.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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