Northwest Military Blogs: Served blog

February 17, 2015 at 9:25am

Happy Chinese New Year!

This year, the Spring Festival falls on Feb. 19. For 15 days, Chinese families around the globe are returning to their homes for half a month of feasting, money-stuffed red envelopes and much-needed bonding to honor the Year of the Goat.

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One of the great things about living in the Great Melting Pot is it's always some Americans' holiday. For a half-Anglo, half-Latino dude from L.A. and Oklahoma, I know a surprising amount about Chinese New Year. Chalk it up to too many hours spent in Chinese buffets, but also to genuine interest in the culture. My Oklahoma friends and I threw a Chinese New Year party each February; it gave me the chance to show off my burgeoning wok skills. Oh, make no mistake, I can still throw down a half-decent Buddha's delight, the vegetarian medley traditionally served around that time because the end of its Cantonese name, fat choy, sounds like the phrase for prosperity. Don't delve too deeply into the black "hair weed" that thickens the dish, though. Instead, think of it as Chinese black eyed peas, and bon appetit.

Much like Westerners' spring cleaning ritual, the Ch?njié (Spring Festival) of the Chinese lunar New Year gives families a festive reason to spruce up the house, clearing the way for all that good luck to come. It's a time of reunion, when red decorations appear, firecrackers get 'sploded, and money is liberally distributed in red envelopes. Why all that red? A Nián Shòu is a mythical, leonine beast. Legends tell us that a Nian used to attack a certain village each year on New Year's Day. The villagers left food in front of their doors in hopes the man-eater would devour it and amscray, until finally, the gods hinted to a local hero that he should consider hanging red banners and lighting fireworks instead. The Nian, secretly terrified of the color red, hit the bricks and was never seen again-unless you believe a story that it was later captured by a Taoist monk, Hóngj?n L?oz?", who wore red undies and thereby scared the Nian into serving as his personal show pony.

It may surprise you to learn there's no real agreement on which numerical year this is in the Chinese calendar. That's because mainland Chinese tend to not to assign numbers to years, and scholars outside the country never quite agreed on when their calendar should start. We do know that as of this Thursday, Feb. 19, the twelve-year astrological cycle lands on the Year of the Goat, sometimes prettied up as Year of the Ram. In America, goats are known for their stubbornness. That's true in China as well, but they're also thought of as kind, peaceable and popular, if not a bit clingy (cf. those adorable kid videos on YouTube).

So how should you, fellow Yank, celebrate the Spring Festival? Aside from the fireworks where legal, red banners, good-luck messages, and gifts of money to stubborn but popular Volcano bloggers, I recommend getting your eat on. (I know. I recommend that for every occasion.  It's a thing I do. Shut up.) A downside of being ethnic-American is one often has to work hardest on one's own cultural holiday, as my cousins could attest every Cinco de Mayo. So yes, my beloved Main Chinese Buffet will be open in Lacey, as will the always delicious Indochine in Tacoma. You might also brave the crowds at Din Tai Fung up in Bellevue, my wife's favorite restaurant on the planet. Have a family photo taken. By all means, have a drink. The traditional toast is "g?n b?"i," which means "empty cup" or "bottoms up!" Then wish each other a hearty "gong hey fat choy," meaning "congratulations and prosperity." Teenagers are free to add the jokey suffix "hóngb?o nálái": "now gimme a red envelope!" More jao gok dumplings, anyone?

Happy New Year!

Filed under: Holidays Lacey Tacoma
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About this blog

Served, a blog by the Weekly Volcano, is the region’s feedbag of fresh chow daily, local restaurant news, New Beer Column, bar and restaurant openings and closings, breaking culinary news and breaking culinary ground - all brought to the table with a dollop of Internet frivolity on top.

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