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Dumplings Are Traditional

The traditional food for Chinese New Year is Jiaozi, or dumplings. They are like little pillows shaped like an ear. The filling for the dumpling is made by chopping meat and vegetables extremely fine. (Being vegetarian, ours were all vegetables.) The dough is rolled out into circles about two inches in diameter and then filled and pinched closed and then boiled in water. They are so small that the average person can eat maybe thirty for one meal. They are also dipped into vinegar as you eat them.

Today was Chinese New Year’s Eve. Our friends came about 10 a.m. They had prepared the jiaozi dough and filling at their home and brought it with them. Everyone began the process of filling the dumplings as someone rolled out the dough.

At lunchtime, more people came until there were seven of us at the table. Let’s see … seven people at thirty jiaozi each…that’s 210 dumplings!! Ladies, this is labor intensive cooking!

It was so wonderful for our friends to do this for us, especially, when you consider that they had to go home and repeat the process for their families for supper!

The Chinese New Year, Nian, lasts only two or three days including the New Year’s Eve, the New Year season extends from the mid-twelfth month of the previous year to the middle of the first month of the New Year. The New Year is a time to rush back home for a family reunion from all parts of the country.

Days before the New Year, every family is busy giving its house a thorough cleaning, hoping to sweep away all the ill-fortune there may have been in the family to make way for the wishful in-coming good luck. People also give their doors and window-panes new paint, usually in red color. They decorate the doors and windows with paper cut outs and couplets with the very popular theme of “happiness,” “wealth,” “longevity,” and “satisfactory marriage with more children.” Paintings of the same theme are put up in the house, on top of the newly mounted wallpaper. In the old days, various kinds of food are tributed at the altar of ancestors.

The Eve of the New Year is very carefully observed. Supper is a feast, with all members coming together. One of the most popular courses is jiaozi, dumplings boiled in water.

“Jiaozi” in Chinese literally means, “sleep together and have sons,” a long-lost good wish for a family. After dinner, it is time for the whole family to sit up for the night while having fun playing cards or board games or watching TV programs dedicated to the occasion. Every light is supposed to be kept on the whole night. As darkness comes, the whole sky will be lit up by fireworks and firecrackers making everywhere seem like a war zone. People’s excitement reachs its zenith.

Very early the next morning, children greet their parents and receive their presents in terms of cash wrapped up in red paper envelopes.Then, the family starts out to say greetings from door to door, first their relatives and then their neighbors. It is a great time for reconciliation. Old grudges are very easily cast away during the greetings. The air is permeated with warmth and friendliness. During and several days following the New Year’s Day, people are visiting each other, with a great deal of gift exchanges. The New Year atmosphere is brought to an anti-climax fifteen days later when the Festival of Lanterns sets in. It is an occasion of lantern shows and folk dances everywhere. One typical food is the Tang Yuan, another kind of dumplings made of sweet rice rolled into balls and stuffed with either sweet or spicy fillings.

The Lantern Festival marks the end of the New Year season and afterwards life becomes daily routine once again. Customs of observing the New Year vary from place to place, considering that China is a big country not only geographically, but also demographically and ethnically. Yet, the spirit underlying the diverse celebrations of the Chinese New Year is the same: a sincere wish of peace and happiness for the family members and friends.

Xin Nian Kuai Le! Happy Chinese New Year!