January 18, 2012

Year of the Dragon Checklist

Although I grew up in San Francisco's Chinatown, Chinese New Year was little more than saying "Gung Hay Faat Choy" to our friends and family, receiving red envelopes filled with money, and counting up our spoils at the end of the day.  We didn't know to receive them with two hands.  We didn't know how to say "thank you" in Chinese.  It was bad enough we didn't speak or understand the language, but not knowing or practicing the customs was even worse. 

So when I met and married my husband, whose family is much more traditional than mine, I had the task of learning, understanding, and finally embracing the traditions associated with Chinese New Year, so that my children would also learn to make the customs their own.

It has been a several year-long journey for me, but this year I've finally become proactive and intentional about preparing the family for a happy and prosperous year of the dragon.  You see, in my interpretation of the customs, there are several foods you can eat and things that you can do which symbolize luck, and one does as much as one can to bring in the new year.

Here is our Chinese New Year Check List:

1. Clean the house--Sweep out the old, in with the new.  Don't clean on New Year's or you'll risk sweeping up good luck.  (Oh, how this one haunts me!  But I'm determined...)

2. Get haircuts--Same concept--don't get your haircut on New Year's or you risk cutting off some luck.

3. Buy new red clothes  for the family.  Now this is definitely something I've got covered (shopping, anyone?).  And with leftover holiday merchandise left on racks, and Valentine's Day around the corner, shelves are stocked with red clothes.  Everyone sports their new threads on New Year's Day.

Addi is happy to try on her new red dress!
  4.  Prepare red envelopes with lucky money to give out to family and friends' children.  Children are taught to say "Gung hay faat choy" or other phrase wishing luck, happiness, health, etc. and are given two envelopes from each couple, one from each person.  The envelopes can be filled with any denomination of money, but when considering how much to fill each envelope, note that 4's are considered unlucky and 8's are considered especially lucky.

5. Select orange, round tangerines with stems for freshness and beauty to create a display in a bowl.  My mother-in-law will also add a pomelo and some red envelopes to her bowl. 

If you lack space or just want a fun craft project for little ones, try making an orange bowl collage with various textured paper. 

6. Try a few Chinese New Year recipes.  There are many foods considered lucky because their names are homonyms for various words or phrases for wealth, luck, or happiness.

I will leave you with one recipe today, and post a few more later on in the week.  Irene posted a link to a lettuce cups recipe last year, and I had to tap into my greatest resource (my mother-in-law) to get some advice about making her kid and allergy-friendly version of my childhood favorite, traditionally made with oysters.

My Mother-in-Law's Lettuce Cups for Kids (Egg, Dairy, Nut-free; can be made soy and wheat free by eliminating the hoisin sauce)

Eat lettuce cups for good fortune


6-8 oz. of Chicken Breast (alternatively, use ground chicken)
2 Aidell's Chicken Apple Sausages (or use Chinese sausages--"lop cheung")
1 small can of Water Chestnuts (or use Jicama)
1 oz. of Dried Black Fungus*, soaked for at least an hour in a bowl of water
5-6 Dried Chinese Black Mushrooms, soaked for at least an hour in a bowl of water
1 head of Iceberg Lettuce
Hoisin Sauce* (plum sauce--contains wheat and soy)
2 T. Oil
Garlic Powder, Salt, & Pepper to taste (about a tsp. of each)
1 tsp. Cornstarch
1 tsp. Sesame Oil*

(*Optional ingredients)

1. Dice the chicken breast.

2. In a small bowl, add about a tablespoon of oil, garlic powder, salt, pepper, cornstarch, and sesame oil to the diced chicken and let sit while you dice the sausage, water chestnuts, dried black fungus, and black mushrooms.

Diced black fungus

3. Peel, wash, and dry the lettuce leaves and set aside.  You want to try to keep them whole and intact.
4. Add 1-2 tablespoons of oil to a pan and stirfry the chicken until cooked through.  Add sausages, water chestnuts, fungus, and mushrooms until heated through.  Remove from heat.
5. Serve immediately by scooping chicken mixture into lettuce cups and drizzling with hoisin sauce.

The boys got this version because they're not big mushroom fans
Get to your Asian market today, because although they may stay open for Thanksgiving and Christmas, they'll all be closed for Chinese New Year.  Happy shopping!


  1. Awesome! My ohana is very Americanized as well. I'm debating on whether to clean our place. I usually practice that and don't wash our hair the first day. My girls got haircuts already. I had mine in Dec.

  2. Yes, the recipe for the lettuce cups!! :)

    Happy New Year to you all!

  3. Kepanie, funny you mention the hair washing! I have the greasiest hair ever so skipping a day is tough.:) Lily, try the lettuce cups and let me know how they are.

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