British Columbia

Tiny red envelopes and black moss: Vancouver author explains Lunar New Year traditions

Vancouver author Jen Sookfong Lee explains family traditions around the Chinese Lunar New Year.

'I remember my mom cooking for like a week,' says Jen Sookfong Lee

Jen Sookfong Lee says as a child, her parents made her save the money she received during Lunar New Year for tuition later on. (CBC/ Caroline Chan)

This week, many people across B.C. and beyond are preparing for the Lunar New Year, which takes place on Friday, Feb. 16.

Chinese-Canadian author Jen Sookfong Lee, who has written a children's book on the holiday, says a big part of the celebrations revolve around cooking and eating — from dumplings to noodles to cakes.

"Chinese New Year is so much about food," Lee said.

"I remember my mom cooking for like a week."

One ingredient featured in Lunar New Year dishes is known in English as fat choy or black moss, an edible algae.

"It looks like hair — black hair — which sounds not super appetizing, but I like it," Lee explained.

"That's one of the things that's really prominent in Chinese New Year cooking. My mom puts it in a soup and sometimes she'll toss it in with noodles."

Lee says the ingredient is popular in part because it sounds similar to a Lunar New Year greeting, "Kung Hei Fat Choy,"

Candy in the morning?

Lee says the celebrations also involve a lot of sweets.

"On Chinese New Year in the morning, my mom always made us eat a piece of candy because you want something sweet to start your year off sweetly, I guess," she said.

"With all of this food and candy, it's this way of saying 'Look, we are alive and we're going to celebrate our lives and we are going to look forward to some really good things in the new year.'

"You make sure that everybody is fed and happy and has enough stuff."

Lucky money

You may have noticed small red envelopes in banks during the Lunar New Year. They're for money — "lucky money" — to be offered as gifts.

"People who are married or elders will put money into red envelopes and give them to children or to people who are unmarried," Lee said.

"It's a gift giving, but it's also a show of prosperity. We have enough to give you something."

Lee says that when she was young, her parents would make her save the money.

"We would sometimes rake in hundreds of dollars, which was a lot when I was a kid so we would put it in our bank accounts and I think ultimately I saved it for school, for tuition."

With files from The Early Edition and Caroline Chan