This Chinese New Year, the year of the Fire Rooster, begins on January 28. During the two-week celebration of the New Year, family and friends gather for feasting and to honor household and heavenly deities. It is one of the grandest, most celebratory annual events throughout the world.
Originating in the ancient Shang Dynasty (17 to 11 BC), this lively holiday was a way to ward off the legendary monster “Nian,” who loved to feast on little children and farm animals. Along with his appetite, Nian had some peculiar hang ups. He detested the color red and abhorred loud noise. So people decorated their houses in brilliant reds and set off fire crackers in the streets to send Nian away for another year.
Even though China adopted the Western calendar and January 1st as an official New Year date, the Lunar New Year is still of the utmost cultural and historical importance. Chinese continue to celebrate the traditions and customs of Lunar New Year, albeit now with a shorter new name – the Spring Festival.
During the Spring Festival, mandarin oranges, tangerines, pomelos and all types of citrus are gifted as tokens of good fortune, happiness and abundance. These fruits are displayed on kitchen tables throughout the two week celebration as a harbinger of a healthy, hopeful and prosperous New Year to come. Another highly-prized celebratory fruit during the Spring Festival is the Dragon Fruit or Pitahaya. Wildly popular for its brilliant fuschia-pink coloring – some believe the color of luck – Dragon Fruit is often placed on altars for the Lunar New Year.
Dragon fruit, or pitahaya, is actually a vine-like cactus that originated in the Americas but became almost exclusively popular in East and Southeast Asia over many years. It’s a fruit both moody and mysterious. The pitahaya’s aromatic flowers bloom one night only, on the full moon, and can only grow by nocturnal pollinators that bring this magical fruit to fruition.
The white flesh of the Dragon Fruit is soft like a ripe peach and is easily eaten with a spoon once you cut the fruit in half. It has tiny black seeds that are easy to eat. The flesh is slightly sweet with a touch of lemon flavor. Delicious as well as exotically colored, it will ward off the monster Nian until at least 2018.
This 2017 Lunar New Year Spring Festival begins on January 28th . If you happen to be in New York City, check out the New Year’s Day Firecracker Ceremony and Cultural Festival, kicking off at Chinatown’s Sara Roosevelt Park. Usher out the New Year celebrations on February 5th with a bang and clang two weeks later at the dazzling Lunar New Year Parade in Chinatown.
Happy Lunar New Year to you all!