By Leslie Lindsay
You thought the New Year celebrations were swept under the rug–along with tinsel and wrapping paper–somewhere around the first week of January, but you would be wrong. At least partially. Another opportunity to celebrate–and perhaps renew your resolutions–is right around the corner.
February 19th is an important date in Chinese culture and commences the Year of the Sheep [Goat/Ram].
According to the Chinese Zodiac, this is an affable year. Folks born under this sign are considered calm, gentle, polite, well-liked, and kind-hearted. But wait–back the Zodiac train up–what exactly does this mean?!
I had the same question myself. Our family carpools to and from elementary school with two cute-as-a-button Chinese-American sisters. They were chattering about birthdays and ‘their animal.’ Behind dark lashes and specs, they were calculating the animal totem of me and my daughters. I’m a horse, it turns out. My oldest is a rooster and my youngest a dog.
How, I wanted to know were they doing this?! The girls apparently attend ‘Chinese School’ on the weekends and have learned much of these traditions and cultures there–including calculating anyone’s birth sign. “Then later, we go to our grandma’s house and she helps us understand things.” I nodded and asked more. From what I could glean from the girls, the Chinese Zodiac is based on a twelve-year cycle, each year is related to the qualities of an animal (horse, ox, dog, pig, rooster, etc.), it’s all calculated based on the Chinese Lunar Calendar. It was devised during the Han Dynasty (202 BCE-220 CE).
Zodiac aside, I talked up their mom a kind, devoted, nurturing mother of four and gleaned a little more on the basis of the Chinese New Year. “[It] was a big holiday for my side. I remembered skipping school on Chinese New Year during my childhood.” She tells me her mother would clean the house top to bottom and both parents would cook all day long–and there would be plenty of food for several days. Traditionally, foods ranged from homemade dumplings (see recipe below), to delicious desserts like mango pudding, moon cakes, and almond jelly, often served with tea.
It sounds a little like tradtional celebrations, but the similarities don’t end there. “Everything must be neatly arranged and absolutely no arguments or fights that day. My mom and dad would first pay respect to relatives who have already passed [away] and then we would all feast on a big lunch followed by dinner shortly.”
That’s right–two ornate and filling meals on Chinese New Year was common, “basically, it was a day to sit around and eat and enjoy the peace and harmony.” All members of the family were expected to wear red, preferrably head-to-toe, “then mom and dad would give us a red envelope with cash in it.”
So, what’s with the color red? Seems the color symbolizes good fortune and joy and can be seen in abundance at celebratory events. Red is strictly forbidden at funerals. Yet, the names of the dead were often penned in red and it was seen as offensive to use crimson ink to pen Chinese names other than in context with official seals.
But how about today? I asked my friend and she was happy to share, “Now, our family just go to grandmas place and have Chinese New Year dinner together. Not much of the traditional foods [anymore], sometimes just carry-out from a Chinese restaurant. We still do the nice greetings/wishes to each other and gives out red envelop with money. And of course a very good meal to start off a new year!”
Want to make your own traditional Chinese Dumplings and celebrate the Year of the Sheep? You’re in luck! Let us know how it goes [leave a comment on the blog]…and you can WIN a copy of this FABULOUS book for children and adults alike with fantastic drawings, gate-fold center and more. Post a photo of your dumplings to China Institute’s Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/ourforbiddencity. The chef of the yummiest looking batch will receive a free copy of their We All Live in the Forbidden City books!
Make Your Own New Year Dumplings!
Recipe provided by China Institute
Dumplings, called jiaozi in Mandarin, have been popular in China for hundreds of years. They’re especially popular on Chinese New Year.
This year, Chinese New Year starts on February 19. We will be moving from the Year of the Horse to the Year of the Sheep. What better way to celebrate than to make your own dumplings! The recipe below is for a traditional pork and chive filling, but the great thing about dumplings is that you can make all sorts of different fillings.
Dumpling (jiaozi) Dough:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups cold water
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pork & Chive Filling:
1 cup ground pork (can also use beef)
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
3 Tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 green onion, finely minced
1 1/2 cups finely shredded Napa cabbage
4 Tablespoons shredded bamboo shoots
2 slices fresh ginger, finely minced
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely minced
Stir the salt into the flour. Slowly stir in the cold water, adding as much as is necessary to create a smooth dough. Don’t add more water than is necessary. Knead the dough into a smooth ball. Cover the dough and let it rest for at least 30 minutes.
While the dough is resting, prepare the filling ingredients. Add the soy sauce, salt, rice wine, and white pepper to the meat, stirring in one direction. Add the remaining ingredients, stirring in the same direction, and mix well.
Now, prepare the dough for the dumplings. First knead the dough until it forms a smooth ball. Divide the dough into 60 pieces. Roll each piece out into a circle about 3-inches in diameter to create the dumpling wrappers.
Place a portion (about 1 Tablespoon) of the filling into the middle of each dumpling wrapper. Wet the edges of the dumpling with water. Fold the dough over the filling into a half moon shape and pinch the edges to seal. Continue with the remainder of the dumpling wrappers.
To cook the dumplings, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add half the dumplings, giving them a gentle stir so they don’t stick together. Bring the water to a boil, and add 1/2 cup of cold water. Cover and repeat. When the dumplings come to a boil for a third time, they are ready. Drain and remove. If you want, they can be pan-fried at this point. Repeat this process for the second half of dumplings.
More info: China Institute’s We All Live in the Forbidden City program includes children’s books and educational workshops that celebrate Chinese cultural history in ways that are accessible and fun for kids.This is the Greatest Place! uses lift-flaps to teach young readers how nature’s influence can be seen around us, and how people and animals can live together in harmony.In the Forbidden City is a large format book that comes with a magnifying glass so kids can look closely at highly detailed line drawings conveying the grandeur of it’s buildings, gardens, and courtyards. The books have received much praise, including reviews in Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Kirkusand Foreword, since releasing last fall. Press info at www.prbythebook.com/china-institute.
[images courtesy of The China Institute/PRbytheBook]