One of the most important festivals for Thais of Chinese descent is no doubt the Chinese New Year. However, as red envelopes and feasts go, most families have their own tradition of celebrating the start to a wonderful year. We spoke to members from four prominent Chinese families in Thailand on how they plan to welcome the Year of the Rooster.
“I’m not sure if other households have this but in my family, we have a team that does all the shopping for the offerings. I don’t know the ingredients that are required for the auspicious offerings,” says Saarunthorn Techapaiboon. Every year, she goes to the Techapaiboon building to pay respect to the gods. In the evening after making merits, 70 to 80 family members of the Techapaiboon family join for a big Chinese feast at the family building.
The day after, Saarunthorn would bring oranges to greet the respected elders with her parents and join for another small family meal. “After greeting the elders, I usually go back to my late grandmother’s house. Closer relatives such as my mum’s siblings would join for a home-cook meal. We get to enjoy comfort food like paloh, jub chai and various curries, which are all my late grandmother’s recipes. Now my aunt-in-law cooks those comfort food for everybody instead of my grandmother.”
“I’m putting on my best gold dress on Saturday and will probably go out for some bird’s nest soup at the Intercontinental,” says Chitra Konuntakiet, who believes gold colour better suit her luck than the traditional red. She has always been accustomed to Chinese New Year traditions ever since a very young age. “Chinese New Year is a period of joy. It’s filled with happiness. That’s what I love about it.”
Chitra remembers how every member in her family would gather around to play a card game similar to Blackjack. “It was a test of luck. My father was the card dealer and if he loses, he had to pay his children who had better luck. It was just enjoyable – a very valuable memory.”
Varavut Laohapongchana celebrates Chinese New Year for three days, similar to other households. However, before the actual Chinese New Year on January 26th, he has to cut his hair first because his family members believe it is bad luck to get a haircut during the Chinese New Year and the two weeks that follows. He is also keeping with tradition in cleaning the house and buying new clothes. The TV host leaves the Chinese New Year shopping duties for meat and other auspicious food on January 26th to his mum and his other aunts-in-law. Afterwards, on the 27th and 28th, he prays to the gods to thank them and gives away red envelopes.
“I love how people express their thankfulness and give importance to the spirits and gods that have been protecting us for the whole year. I also love how they express gratefulness and pay respect to their ancestors and also the elders who are still alive,” says Varavut. “Since it’s a tradition that I have learned since my grandparents’ time and have been passed on from the generations before, I would hope to continue passing it forward for generations after me. More importantly, the Chinese New Year lets us who are Thai-Chinese recognise and remember our roots, because if we forget who we are, we will lose our way.”
Every Chinese New Year, Lee Puengboonpra would purchase several boxes of fruits as food offerings. “I would put up the offerings at my house, the office, the factory and all the important places to me.” She would also present pieces of chicken, pork, fish and squid to her home’s guardian spirits. “I also go to several temples to pray and such – usually for the whole two weeks.”
However, what makes the festival so special to her every year are the red envelopes or ‘angpaos.’ “I used to be very excited about the Chinese New Year. I would look forward to getting the red envelopes. Now I am no longer on the receiving end, but it is still meaningful to me because it feels nice to be able to give my children a little something.”