Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Chinese Food For New Year's Eve: The Origins

With New Year's Eve coming this Friday, many people are making plans to dine at Chinese restaurants that night, or order Chinese take-out. It's definitely the busiest night of the year for Chinese restaurants, especially for take-out, and they often have to hire more staff to handle all of the business. Chinese food on New Year's Eve is a lengthy tradition in Massachusetts, as well as a few other states, but when did this tradition begin? 

There doesn't appear to be any consensus on the origins of this tradition but an exploration of its history can enlighten us to sone degree. The tradition is probably older than many believe, and its roots definitely extend even further back in time, over 100 years. 
Around 1919, there were roughly a dozen or so Chinese restaurants in Boston, and this was also the first time one of them advertised that they were hosting a New Year's Eve celebration. The Boston Globe, December 28, 1919, printed an advertisement for Grand Garden, at 660 Washington Street, which was having a New Year's Eve Celebration with "Cabaret--Jazz Orchestra." I'll note that this is actually a Chinese & American restaurant, although the ad doesn't mention "Chinese" at all. 

The Grand Garden was not the only Chinese restaurant celebrating New Year's Eve in 1919. The Boston Herald, December 31, 1919, had ads for three other Chinese restaurants, including The Hankow, Oriental and Honk Kong. The Hankow had a New Year's Celebration dinner, for $1.50, and the ad presented the extensive menu, although much of the menu was American cuisine. 

The Oriental had a New Year's Eve celebration, with a $2 cover, and also offered a New Year's Dinner for $2.00, although the menu wasn't mentioned.

The Hong Kong also offered a Supper for New Year's Eve and a Dinner for New Year's Day, for $1.50. 
So, we can see that going to a Chinese restaurant for New Year's Eve extends back over 100 years. 

In 1920, other Chinese restaurants also offered New Year's Eve celebrations. The Boston Globe, December 30, 1920, had ads for the Grand Garden, The King, Joy Yong, Royal; and the Shanghai. The Grand Garden was open until 2am for their New Year's Eve celebration, and this ad mentioned they served American and Chinese cuisine. 

This ad was for three Chinese restaurants, The King, Joy Yong, and Royal, which celebrated New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, offering food, favors and music. The ad stated, "Begin the Year Right. Intoxicate Only with Delicious Viands."

The Shanghai's ad mentioned they would have New Year's Eve souvenirs, favors and cabaret. 

The Boston Herald, December 31, 1920, also had an ad for the Court Restaurant which offered a New Year's Eve Celebration, with souvenirs, favors, music and cabaret. They also had specials for New Year's Day. 

With the advent of Prohibition and later World War 2, New Year's Eve celebrations became much less frequent and ads for Chinese restaurants celebrating the holiday vanished. They started to return during the 1950s, and it was this period when take-out Chinese food for this holiday also saw its major growth, with the adoption of the "oyster pail," the ubiquitous Chinese take-out container we all now know and love. The familiar white box, with the metal handle, had been invented over 50 years before, but it was during the 1950s that Chinese restaurants started using it. 

The Boston Daily Record, December 24, 1951, printed an ad for The Cathay House, noting ”Special Containers for Food Taken Out.”  The Boston Daily Record, December 15, 1952, presented an ad for the House of Wong, and also noted, “Special container for food to be taken out.” Take-out Chinese food had been offered at least as far back as 1916, but the oyster pail made it much easier, helping to keep the food warm. 

The Patriot Ledger, December 29, 1950, printed an ad for King Joy’s China Restaurant in Quincy, noting it was hosting a New Year’s Eve celebration, offering “Something different for your home parties” although it doesn’t specifically mention take-out. 

The Boston American, December 29, 1952, had an ad for the House of Wong, with an open house on  New Year’s Eve, noting it was open until early hours. 

The Patriot Ledger, December 31, 1953, presented another ad for King Joy’s China Restaurant, including their “Chinese Party Table,” available from 9pm-1am, for New Year's Eve. The ad also stated you could get orders for home parties.  

The Boston Globe, December 20, 1958, noted several Chinese restaurants which were offering New Year's Eve specials. This included the South Seas (which recently opened), the China House (on Boylston St.) and the Cathay House (on Beach St.).

The Boston Globe, December 22, 1958, printed an ad for the South Seas, a restaurant-lounge, at 21 Harrison Ave, which was accepting New Year’s Eve reservations.

The Boston Globe, December 29, 1959, presented an ad for Gamsum, noting it's open house for New Year’s Eve, and that take out orders were available too. 

As the 1960s began, New Year's Eve celebrations at Chinese restaurants, along with take-out, became even more popular. The Boston Globe, December 26, 1960, published an article on “Boston’s Famed Eating Spots Offer Festive Entertainment for Double New Year Galas.” New Year's Eve was on Saturday and celebrations will also being held on Sunday evening, January 1. However, there was a curfew of midnight on New Year's Eve, which meant that all drinking and entertainment had to stop at midnight although guests could remain around until 1am.

The article also mentioned that  “China Pearl, a new Chinese dine and dance spot, will also have its first party.” The article continued, “China House, Boylston’s famous spot, will hold open house also.” 

Ads for China Pearl and China House are presented above, noting their celebrations and also offering take-out for the holiday.

The Boston Globe, December 31, 1960, printed an ad for China Sky in Dorchester, with New Year's Eve hours until 4am, and with take-out available.

The next year, there were positive changes in Boston. The Boston Globe, December 28, 1961, stated that places with entertainment could now stay open until 4am, and some of the Chinese restaurants celebrating New Year's Eve included China House, China Pearl and Gamsum Restaurant

In subsequent years, Chinese food on New Year's Eve became even more and more popular. It makes for great party food, as you can order a multitude of dishes and everyone can sample a little bit of each dish. It's often very affordable, even when you order a large amount of food. It's delicious and most people like some type of Chinese food. It also has the force of tradition, so many people feel compelled to follow this long tradition over the years. 

Do you enjoy Chinese food for New Year's Eve? If so, dine-in or take-out? 

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