One of the many pleasures of Mauritius is the seemingly-endless supply of public holidays. I’m joking! Well, not really – having a day off from time to time is fun, of course, but what makes these days truly special is that everybody, regardless of ethnicity and religion, celebrates each other’s festivities – Maha Shivaratri, Christmas, Eid al-Fitr, Diwali, you name it. This Saturday 25th of January marks the official start of the Chinese New Year, celebrated by all Mauritians in true style, fusing our Chinese heritage with our local culture.
Celebrations and Preparations
Celebrations (and preparations!) started at least a week ago or so. Firecrackers were lit in front of shops to ward away bad spirits, and – if you, dear reader, have been living and working in Mauritius for some time now, you’ll know – many boxes containing bountiful Chinese delights have been given and received. The unmissable treasure in these red and gold boxes is the famous ‘gâteau la cire’, a delicious cake made of rice flour, orange marmalade and sugar (‘cire’ denoting its waxy appearance, I suppose. In other parts of the world, it’s referred to as nian gao). Depending on the box, you can also find local treats such as ‘gato zorey’ (‘ear cakes’, a savoury-sweet treat). Families and friends also exchange foong pao (also known as hong bao), which are gorgeous red and gold envelopes filled with notes.
On the eve of Chinese New Year, families often come together for a special reunion dinner. The dishes served often have very specific meanings: fish for abundance, dumplings for wealth, noodles for longevity and so forth. At the exact time that New Year is proclaimed (no, it’s not necessarily midnight), firecrackers are lit, usually at the entrance of the family home: you’ll definitely hear them all around you and see them the next day, for the red paper residue garnishes many a street.