The Chinese New Year of the Tiger begins on February 14, 2010 and is celebrated for the next 15 days. More food is prepared and consumed during this holiday than any other time of the year, and much of the food has symbolic connotations.
Chinese New Year starts with the New Moon on the first day of the new year and ends on the full moon 15 days later. The 15th day of the new year is called the Lantern Festival, which is celebrated at night with lantern displays and children carrying lanterns in a parade.
The Chinese calendar is based on a combination of lunar and solar movements. The lunar cycle is about 29.5 days. In order to "catch up" with the solar calendar the Chinese insert an extra month once every few years (seven years out of a 19-yearcycle). This is the same as adding an extra day on leap year. This is why, according to the solar calendar, the Chinese New Year falls on a different date each year.
New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are celebrated as a family affair, a time of reunion and thanksgiving. The celebration was traditionally highlighted with a religious ceremony given in honor of Heaven and Earth, the gods of the household and the family ancestors. Departed relatives are remembered with great respect because they were responsible for laying the foundations for the fortune and glory of the family.
The presence of the ancestors is acknowledged on New Year's Eve with a dinner arranged for them at the family banquet table. The spirits of the ancestors, together with the living, celebrate the onset of the New Year as one great community. The communal feast called "surrounding the stove" or weilu. It symbolizes family unity and honors the past and present generations.
When I went in to order my Chinese New Year feast from Mr. Chan's Asian Cuisine on new year's eve, the owners and their families were right there in the restaurant having their traditional meal or "communal feast" together. It was so nice to see - and amazing to peruse the very authentic menu - including chicken feet, curry squid and beef tripe on the appetizer menu and so much more throughout the rest of the menu. Elizabeth was a great help in navigating my way around the menu. It was so refreshing and enlightening to see this variety and level of authenticity at a place in a strip mall just over the intercoastal.
On New Year's Day, traditional foods include a whole fish, to represent togetherness and abundance, and a chicken for prosperity. It is customary to serve a fish at the end of the evening meal, bringing a wish for abundance in the coming year. The fish is served whole, with head and tail attached, symbolizing a good beginning and ending for the coming year. Similarly, the chicken must be presented with a head, tail and feet to symbolize completeness. Noodles should be uncut, as they represent long life.
Prior to New Year's Day, Chinese families decorate their living rooms with vases of pretty blossoms, platters of oranges and tangerines and a candy tray with eight varieties of dried sweet fruit. Etiquette dictates that you must bring a bag of oranges and tangerines and enclose a lai see (small red envelopes usually with filled with crisp one dollar bills to give to young, unmarried children for good luck) when visiting family or friends anytime during the two-week long Chinese New Year celebration. Oranges and tangerines are symbols for abundant happiness.
The candy tray, arranged in either a circle or octagon, is called "The Tray of Togetherness" and has a dazzling array of candy to start the New Year sweetly. After taking several pieces of candy from the tray, adults places a lai see on the center compartment of the tray.
Each item represents some kind of good fortune: Candied melon - growth and good health; Red melon seed - dyed red to symbolize joy,happiness, truth and sincerity; Lychee nut - strong family relationships; Cumquat - prosperity (gold); Coconut - togetherness; Peanuts - long life; Longnan - many good sons; Lotus seed - many children.
Red clothing is preferred during this festive occasion. Red is considered a bright, happy color, sure to bring the wearer a sunny and bright future. It is believed that appearance and attitude during New Year's sets the tone for the rest of the year.
Mr. Chan Asian Cuisine is on Beach Boulevard before the Regal Theaters on the same side. From the reviews online and after my delicious experience last night (that will continue through tonight), Mr. Chan's is the perfect place to celebrate. They serve whole fish - steamed or fried - with a choice of sauce - Asian black bean, ginger garlic, or curry coconut milk.
They also offer a wide variety of noodles. In Asian Noodle Soup, choose your flavor - including beef stew, roast duck, shimp wonton and more; then choose your noodle: egg, chow fun (wide and flat), rice (skinny like angel hair) or Udon (soft and round). With the Cantonese Pan Fried Noodles, rice or egg noodles are stir-fried until crispy on the outside and then served with your choice of beef, chicken, pork, vegetable or seafood.
Mr. Chan Asian Cuisine is open today (Sunday) from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. They are located at 13947 Beach Blvd., #110 in Jacksonville. You can dine in or carry out - call them at (904) 992-1388.
If you prefer to stay on the "island", check out China Coral in Ponte Vedra. They have a beautiful, large dining room all decorated in red and offer a nice noodle soup for two and many other traditional favorites.
Information for this article was excerpted from the following sites:
For more information on the Year of the Tiger, check out these sites: