Chinese New Year, My Way

Being Chinese doesn’t necessarily mean you are Chinese. No time is that more clearer to me than when it comes to Chinese holiday traditions. I am fortunate enough that my husband’s family is firmly routed in traditional Chinese practices and have embraced each year with more and more enthusiasm. Especially now, with children of my own, I want them to grow up proud of their heritage and love these traditions as much as I do. As much as I’ve learned over the years with my husband’s family I am still learning.

This year I have had to actually dig behind the meaning of many of the rituals I perform yearly as this American-born Chinese girl is hosting a Chinese New Year Party for my daughter’s class. It’s a little ironic, but I am appreciating this opportunity to more than just the motions and really understand the meaning behind some of these, sometimes quirky rituals. Even if I don’t believe in ghosts and spirits, I can’t help but be enamored with the richness, beauty and history of each routine.

For instance, cleaning the house prior to Chinese New Year prepares the house for good luck. Anything broken, considered clutter, etc should be thrown out. This would be our version of spring cleaning. This could come in quite handy when the kids are older. Perhaps inspire them to ward off bad luck and invite more good luck, so clean real good kids!

I love shopping for Chinese New Year decoration. Banners adorned with Chinese calligraphy, chun lian, are hung throughout the house to usher in prosperity in the new year. I love to find one elaborate piece for the front door and I’ve taken to adorning smaller ones on my kid’s doors. For my daughter’s classroom, I’ve adorned it with signage and a couple of marionette dragons, the symbol of the upcoming New Year.

I didn’t know this before, but any cutting during Chinese New Year is considered unlucky. Thank goodness I cut my hair earlier this week. You always want to look your best for the New Year, unfortunately my nails fell short on that part, but I can’t do anything about that until after. New red clothing is usually the order for the New Year but a more modern take is simply wearing red underwear. I guess this New York girl can swing that. Definitely avoid wearing white and black. Duly noted!

Chinese New Year is typically an ongoing celebration for the first 15 days of the Lunar New Year. The eve of Chinese New Year is typically celebrated with a family dinner of fish – the chinese word yu sounds like another chinese word yu that means more or surplus, and dumplings — which symbolize wealth because of their shape, similar to the ancient gold & silver ingots. For my daughter’s class party, I’m serving up pan-fried dumplings and spring rolls.

One of my favorite dishes served is Nian Gao. My aunt use to make it from scratch, similar to another familiar dim sum dish, Law Bot Goe, but sweeter. When dipped in egg and pan-fried it is a delicious treat. I’m sure there is some significance to this treat but regardless, I’ve come to look forward to this dish every New Year.

Another favorite holiday tradition I’m looking forward to introducing to my kids is watching the parade. Filled with fireworks and lion dances, it never ceases me just how beautiful it is to watch. This year I am excited to take my kids for their first exposure to this wonderful celebration. Luckily in New Year we are not short of this timeless celebration.  The fireworks tradition began with the legend of Nian, a ferocious monster that was afraid of the color red and loud noises. It is believed the noisy fireworks and firecrackers scared the monster. Now, it is believed the more fireworks and noise there are, the more luck there will be in the New Year.  While fireworks have become illegal in New York, we have found other ways to make a loud bang.  My daughter’s class will be popping their way through the New Year with some Throw Poppers.

The kids aren’t quite old enough to embrace the holiday tradition of receiving red envelopes but my husband and I have eagerly embraced being the “adults” in this giving ritual. Each year we have fun shopping for the perfect red envelopes to give our gifts in. I can even admit, each year you can see we’ve grown a little. First year were Sanrio inspired red envelopes, following year more Sanrio, finally evolving to cartoonish drawings and calligraphy of the symbolic year. Eventually we’ll evolve to more grown up red envelopes as if anyone cares. We’re a little sad this year that we have to refrain from this tradition, as we are in mourning for the passing of the matriarch of the family.

Yes each year I’m learning a little more.