Why Chinese Eat Dumplings during Chinese New Year
On special occasions and festivals, people often come together and hold celebrations by eating special meals and participating in special activities. In our Chinese culture, The Spring Festival is among the most important traditional festivals that bring our families together in a celebratory mood. On such an occasion we eat a special meal that is regarded to have a rich historic and symbolic significance. In the last celebrations, I had social interaction with my family members and friends and learnt much regarding the value attached to dumplings as a traditional food that occupies a conspicuous place in their New Year Festival. According to Chamber, the food is not regarded as any ordinary food but its inclusion as a special meal for the festival is based on its cultural and symbolic importance. In Northern China, people eat dumplings during the night of Chinese New Year Eve while watching the Festival Night Show on the television as well as looking at the fireworks. Having seen the level of value and emotional attraction that our people attach to Dumplings during the Chinese New Year, I found it interesting to try finding out more reasons behind such a special emotional attraction to dumplings. This discussion presents a critical examination of the significant value of dumplings in our culture. The study seeks to answer the questions “why is a lot of value attached to dumplings in the Chinese culture?” Reading through the arguments that are presented in this discussion can boost one’s understanding of the reason behind the food’s inclusion during the CNY festival. The importance is derived from a critical look at the symbolic importance of the shape of dumplings, their flavor and texture.
First, it is interesting to understand the value that we attach to the shape of dumplings which makes our people spend a lot of time in shaping the dumplings in the image of half moon. In our culture, every image of an object contains meanings as well. During an interview with a teacher, Miss Li, she pointed out that “the tradition has been practiced widely by Chinese people ever since the Ming and Ching Dynasty. Dumplings are usually prepared before the midnight on Chinese New Year Eve and eaten at midnight to mark the beginning of the first day of the lunar calendar”. Chinese New Year is also known as the “Spring Festival” in modern Chinese. According to China Highlights, Spring Festival is an important festival in our culture and it celebrated at the turn of the traditional lunisolar Chines calendar. Celebrations traditionally run from the evening preceding the first day, to the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the first calendar month (China Highlights). In our culture New Year is not January 1st, but it is on the day of the new moon between January 21st and February 20th. There are many traditions that people practice for Chinese New Year, and eating dumpling is the most famous one among all.
The shape of the dumpling is similar to the shape of YuanBao, or a Chinese gold bar; hence, eating dumpling is perceived in our culture as helpful in attracting wealth and treasure. According to the interviewee Mr. Ma, who is a history professor in China, the shape of a dumpling represents the meaning of the Chinese idiom ‘Attract Wealth and Treasure’, in which the character of the word treasure is the word ‘Bao’. Mr. Ma states that the stuffing of a dumpling represents how our people put all kinds of lucky things inside the dumplings. The stuffing indicates people’s dreams and goals for the New Year. For example, people put candy, peanut, chestnut, and red date inside the dumplings. When we eat a dumpling with candy, it indicates that the coming year will be sweet. On the other hand, we believe that if eating one with peanuts means that we will have long life as it has the similar pronunciation. Finally, eating the one with chestnuts means that we will have children soon because the pronunciation contains a similar meaning.
The idea of wealth and riches that is associated with eating dumpling is also attached to the fact that the shape of dumpling resembles that of gold and silver ingots which were used as currencies in the ancient China. Therefore, people took time to make dumplings in such shapes as an indication of their desire to accumulate wealth in the New Chinese Year. Traditionally, making dumplings involved placing a coin into the dumpling. In the process of eating the dumpling, the one who finds the coin is believed to have a good fortune in the beginning year.
The shape and texture of dumplings also have a significant value in our culture as supported by Harper. Dumplings are significant in our culture in that they help us to memorize the Goddess NuWa, who created human beings. To the Chinese, “NuWa created humans with mud when it was really cold, and the humans’ ears froze and fell easily. To solve the problem, NuWa made eyes next to the ears and connected them with a string through the mouths.” This was how she made ears. In order to memorize her achievement, people made dumplings with the shape of the ear, with stuffing, which represents the string, and eat them in the mouth. It is for this reason that the image of a dumpling is like a half moon shape, with rich stuffing inside.
Dumplings have Flavor dancing feeling such that when you take them, you can hardly avoid but have a flavor explosion. The flavor that is associated with dumplings has the capacity of tickling ones senses. From the first time that one sets his or her eyes on dumplings, one can hardly avoid yawning for the first bite that get him of her a crispy crunchy texture, the potatoes and the chew leading to a fantastic explosion of flavors. It is at that point that the dancing starts right on ones tongue. Ding observes that in our culture, dumplings are regarded as a delicacy rather than a nice food and it is taken as a mark of family union. Dumplings are particularly featured in Spring Festival because they are regarded as a descent food that helps to highlight the day. For thousands of years, it has been a tradition in our culture to have members of family eating dumplings together to enjoy the nice flavor attached to it as a means of marking the New Year in style. On such occasions, I do hang out with my friends and eat a lot of delicious traditional food, including dumplings, to celebrate the coming of a brand new year. My family always gets together at my grandmother’s home and has dinner together. The process of making dumplings is complicated as there is a lot of preparation work is involved. It is for this reason that the food is particularly prepared on an occasion like the CNY when several family members get together to celebrate.
The process that is involved in making dumplings calls for team work and the team involved, in this case, is the family. As such, we regard dumplings as a food that helps to enhance family connection where family members come together in a celebratory mood to chat and laugh together. Due to the value that is attached to dumplings we are always interested in learning how to make it at a young age and we find it enjoyable to be part of the dumpling-making team.
Ding notes that members of our culture attach a lot of value to the meaning of words as seen in the way we value to meaning of the word “JiaoZhi” which is used to refer to dumplings in Chinese. According to the book, The Chinese character, “Zhi” contains a meaning of “ZhiShi” which means midnight in lunar time. Moreover, the character “Jiao3” contains a similar pronunciation as “Jiao1” which means interaction or communication, thus it refers to the meaning of “happy together.” Wording and meanings of words are valued in our culture which has a rich history of our native Chinese language. As such, our people are keen to ensure that every object and names obtain important meanings.
Harper states that the food was hardly prepared by our people except during Spring Festival because it was a representation of a happy and wealthy life that people wanted to pursue. Eating the food makes us happy and hopeful in life. In some way, it contributes to our motivation to work hard and acquire wealth because it serves as a symbol of fortune. It is for this reason that the custom that has been in existence over a thousand years has become part of our culture that is passed on from one generation to another. The food gradually transformed from a general food to be regarded as an influential mascot. Eating dumplings enable our people to acquire satisfaction for their psychological needs. The auspicious meaning that is assigned to dumplings was given in the process where people attempted to find ways of gaining healthy and good life. Moreover, dumpling is the most coroneted type of food among all types of Chinese foods.
Eating dumplings during the CNY is the ultimate mark of happiness and celebration. There is a common saying in some parts of China that “no dumplings, no spring festival”. The saying implies that dumplings are vital part of the festival whose inclusion helps to make the festival complete. The process of making and eating dumplings is regarded to be the most essential activities that our people undertake during the festival. A part from the cultural and symbolic significance of dumplings, the food is good enough to serve as a complete meal. As such, after having dumpling for dinner, one does not need to prepare any other food.
Generally, this discussion has clearly shown that eating dumplings is an important part of Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year. Learning about the practice does not only allow people to understand our tradition more, but my interaction with the our people and the study of dumplings enabled me to understand the rich history of our culture as well as gaining knowledge of ancient Chinese who offer the deep meaning behind every Chinese character, word, and image. Behind the practice of Spring Festival, people can understand how members of our culture see connotation and denotation as an important cultural aspect. The main reasons why dumplings are valued in our culture include; the need to attract wealth and prosperity, a symbol of family union and a mark of festival and celebration. Besides, the shape of dumpling and the meaning of the word in our language have significant denotations.