Chinese Festivals & Festive Food

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There are many festivals in the Chinese calendar but only eight (8) major festivals are being celebrated because of their significance and also widely practiced by Chinese communities living in East Asia and other parts of the world.

The beginning of the New Year for the Chinese is based on the lunar calendar and usually falls in late January or February. This is the biggest festival of the year is:

Chinese Lunar New Year (Chun Jie)

Chinese New Year is also known as “Spring Festival”. It is a very auspicious day and a major holiday for the Chinese in the large part of East Asia like China, Indo-Asia and South East Asian countries and Chinese communities around the world. The celebration is for 15 days. Each year the date for Chinese New Year keeps changing. Well, the Chinese calendar is a combination solar/lunar calendar, based on exact astronomical calculations of the new moon and the longitude of the sun.

The traditional New Year dishes are:

Chap Chai T’ng (Mixed Vegetable Soup),
Kiam Chai Ark, (Salted Vegetable & Duck Soup),
Buddha’s Delight (Assorted Vegetables with Black Moss),
Fatt Choy Pig’s Trotter (Good Luck & Prosperity),
Nian Nian You Yu – literally translated to Every Year with Abundance/Surpluses (Steamed Fish),
Deep Fried Golden Glutinous Rice Ball (symbolizes wealth & good luck),
Spring Rolls (Chunzhuan) – representing gold bullion,
Fried Noodles – close ties and longevity,
Teochew Steamed Fish – symbolize togetherness,
Oysters (Haosi) – In Chinese the word homonym “Good Things” so the dish is Prosperity Oysters with Mushroom and Fried meat balls – reunion and togetherness,
Chrysanthemum Yee Sang (Everyone’s Birthday),
Nian Gao (New Year Cake) and
Chinese Steamed Sponge Cake.

Qing Ming Jie (All Soul’s Day)
The dead are not forgotten and with Confucian teachings of respect for one’s elders. This is celebrated in the third month of the lunar calendar. Families will visit their departed love ones graves to pay respects and offering. During this offering, the families will bring Roast Chicken, Huat Kuih or Bee Koh and fruits.

Duan Wu Jie (Dumpling Festival /Dragon Boat Festival)

This festival is always celebrated on the Fifth day of the Fifth Lunar Calendar. It is a summer festival and Puah Kiam Tee Chang (Sweet & Salty Glutinous Rice Dumpling, Bak Chang (Salty Pork Glutinous Rice Dumpling) and Kee Chang (Alkaline Glutinous Rice Dumpling) are made to celebrate the occasion. There is a story behind all this is goes like…

Zhong Yuan Jie (Festival of the Hungry Ghost)

The Chinese believed that on the 15th of the seventh lunar month, the gates of Hades are opened once a year for a month and the spirits are allowed to roam the Earth. During this period, Chinese families will hope that one’s ancestor are not among the spirits is wandering. They will burn “paper money” in front of the house for the wandering spirits. Also during the whole month the Chinese will avoid any marriages or birthdays. In South East Asian countries the Chinese communities will offer offerings to the wandering spirits by celebrating with Opera Shows and prayers and cooked food.

Zhong Qui Jie (Mid-Autumn Festival) or Mooncake Festival
In the 14th century the eating of the mooncakes at Zhong Qiu Jie was that the story was told when Zhu Yuan Zhang planning to overthrow the Yuan Dynasty started by the Mongolians, the rebels hid their messages in the mooncakes. This festive happens in 15th day of the Eight Lunar Calendar (roughly in the month of September). It is a joyous celebration and is traditionally popular month for marriages.

Kiu Ong Ya Festival (Birthday of the Nine Emperor God)

This festive is celebrated between the Fall and Winter months sometime in October. The traditional food serves is Mi Koo (Bun shape of a red tortoise) and Roast Pig.

Tang Chek or Dong Zhi (“The arrival of winter”)

Tang Chek or Dong Zhi is known as the Thanksgiving of Chinese Lunar Calendar. It is also for the family to get together to celebrate the good year they had and also symbolize the unity and harmony in the family. A sweet dish known as Tang Yuan (Kuih Ee), Glutinous Rice Flour Balls is cooked and offered to the gods and then eaten Tang Yuan signifies that one has successfully completed the year and has grown a year older.

Kitchen God Send-Off Festival
This is the last festival celebrated on the last month of Chinese Lunar Calendar when the Kitchen God, Teh Chu Kong is send off on his annual trip to Heaven to report each individual’s and household’s behavior and activities on earth. So a cake is made to offer to the Kitchen God in the hope of sweetening his report about you and the household. This sweet cake, Ti Kuih (literally means Sweet Cake)which take many hours of steaming.

Other Important Celebrations:

Mua Guak (literally mean Full Moon)

It is celebrated a month after child birth and the first month of the newborn’s life. The Chinese will cook special dishes to be given to relatives and friends to announce the new addition to the family. The dishes are Ang Ku Kuih (literally means Red Tortoise Cake), Red colored hardboiled eggs and Nasi Kunyit (Yellow Rice) with Chicken Curry. The shapes of the Ang Ku Kuih also symbolizes whether the birth of a boy or a girl. If the birth is a boy the Ang Ku Kuih will shape into a round or tortoise-shaped and is a girl then it will shape into a peach-shaped but in today world the goodies might be cupcakes or sliced cakes packed into individual boxes and the Ang Ku Kuih will be shaped in oval or tortoise shape regardless of the sex.

Wedding Tea Ceremony
On this day, the dishes are served to all the relatives are Hwoen Kuih, Kow Chan Kuih, Nasi Lemak, Kiam Chai Te Kut/Ark, Chicken Curry, Chai Tau Kuay, Loh Bak, Steamed Fish, Assorted Vegetables with mushroom, Fried Chicken and many more.

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