Once upon a time, there was a scary beast called Nian. It came out on the first day of every Lunar New Year to raid the countryside, devouring livestock and villagers, especially young children whose meat was considered the most delicious. To protect themselves, villagers prepared a huge feast on that day and presented the best dishes in front of their houses so that Nian might choose to eat these dishes instead of the innocent children. Unfortunately, the villagers’ generosity did not put an end to the beast’s brutality, leading them to seek revenge on Nian. Moved by their tragedy, a god came down from heaven and advised the villagers to put red paper and firecrackers in front of their houses on the day when Nian would attack. Realizing that Nian was susceptible to red and loud sounds, the villagers hung red lanterns on their doors and pasted red paper decor on their windows. When Nian revisited the village on the first day of the next year, it was scared off by the red decorations and the firecrackers ignited around him. No one was killed that night, and never again did Nian return to the village.
Of course, this is merely the Chinese mythology that explains the Chinese New Year (the literal translation of “year” in Chinese is “Nian”), or more accurately, the Lunar New Year, as multiple East Asian countries such as Korea, Japan, Vietnam and Malaysia all celebrate this holiday. Most traditions derived from Nian’s story are still in practice today: Chinese families still put up red decorations around the house, prepare feasts, and light firecrackers during the Spring Festival. The Spring Festival is fifteen days long, starting from New Year’s Eve and lasting until the Lantern Festival on the fifteenth day of the first month, according to the East Asian lunar calendar. However, some traditions have evolved since then.
The feast has become more of a family reunion, which is usually taken very seriously by the whole family, particularly by the elders. Families hang red paper squares on their doors with the word ‘Fu’— meaning ‘bless’—written in calligraphy. Because the Chinese word for ‘upside-down’ has the same sound as ‘arrive,’ the “Fu” paper has to be hung upside-down in order for blessing to come upon the family. For children, the Spring Festival is best time of year. Not only will they not* be eaten by the beast, but they will also receive a significant amount of money in red paper envelopes from older relatives. The rule is simple: the more relatives one visits during the Festival, the more money he or she gets. Therefore, it’s not hard to imagine why children would get excited about the Spring Festival.
At King’s, due to the postponement of KAMUN, we celebrated the Chinese/Lunar New Year one week before the actual date, February 19th. Led by Mr. Ryuji and Mr. Ho, the Um Qais weekend team proctors and several enthusiastic students worked together to give the dining hall a festive makeover, complete with traditional red Chinese décor. Resident Rexonian artist and columnist Suhail Nahhas ’16, coached everyone on how to draw dragons. As a complete beginner, the mess I drew looked more like a mutated snake rather than the noble creature of Chinese mythology. It was a humorous experience, to say the least.
After wrestling with the mysterious creatures on our papers, we spent the whole afternoon cooking. Xiner Chen cooked some delicious Chinese chicken, Dong Jae Hong made Korean seafood pancakes that were questionable in appearance, but were justified in taste, Mr. Jamie’s rice cakes were one of the best dishes that night (the sauce was divine), and Mr. Ho was executive chef in charge of it all.
Here is an interview with Ms. Diane Foster, one of the first-time dumpling-makers:
The Rexonian: How did you feel about making dumplings?
Ms. Diane: Messy, super messy. But it was fun-messy, so it’s okay.
TR: What was the most difficult part about making dumplings?
DF: Well, it was hard to seal them the right way. I was afraid that the contents might fall out. I was extra careful with the dumpling skin at first, but they aren actually not as fragile as I thought.
TR: Would you like to do it again next year?
DF: Oh sure, I did the vegetarian ones this year, so next year I really want to try the ones with meat. Also, I don’t know what happens after I made them! So curious…
TR: Um…you actually just throw them in water and boil them!
Before dinner, we were treated to a great dance performance. The last dance was hilarious. Though there should have been more boys, Feng Jiang and Sitao Wang certainly did a great job. Then there was the New Year feast, which proved to be amazing. The only problem was that there were so many different dishes available that it was hard to give every single one of them a try. But first-world problems aside, I’d like to give a big thanks to everyone who participated in cooking (or eating) —and Happy New Year