Chinese new year is filled with a lot of traditions and symbolisms. And one that my siblings and I always participated in as kids was the serving of new year’s tea to our parents.
The serving of tea is a Chinese custom that demonstrates respect for the person you’re serving, and oftentimes that person is someone older because the Chinese, like most Asian cultures, place a lot of importance in the elderly.
So after we had our new year’s breakfast (typically steamed rice with jai, the vegetarian dish), we would all line up and one-by-one, go out to the front porch of our home where my Mom would be sitting waiting for us. (It was always just my Mom because my Dad would often be busy doing something and we usually had to chase him down to give him his cup of tea.)
In each cup of tea, my Mom would break tiny pieces of dried fruits, made for the new year and often given as gifts to friends and families. The dried fruits – coated in sugar – would be typical choices like pineapple and coconut strips, and the unusual like lotus root, winter melon and carrots (OK, so they all weren’t fruits but the sugar coating made them instant candy).
The pieces of fruit add a sweetness to the tea, which means your new year will be sweet and happy (instead of bitter). As we handed the cup of dried fruit and tea up to our Mom, wishing her a happy and healthy new year, she would then give us a red packet, known as a lay-see.
Most kids look forward to this part of the new year, because the packet was filled with either shiny coins or crispy dollars. If you have a lot of relatives and serve a lot of new year’s tea, you could end up with quite the windfall.
Now that I’m older and live away from home, I don’t do the tradition of serving my Mom new year’s tea. But my Mom still sends me a red packet in the mail. (Someone needs to invent an app so I can send my Mom a virtual cup of new year’s tea.)
I do miss this part of the new year. Coming from a family of five brothers and sisters, the time I spent alone with my Mom in the morning serving her tea was a special time to reflect on the time we had in the previous year and the excitement we had about the coming year. No matter how difficult the times may be, my Mom always made sure the new year morning seemed exciting and filled with so much promise.
All from a sip from a little cup of tea.
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