By Samantha Wang, IV Form, Helen Huang, V Form, Ryan Yang VI Form, and Thomas Li, III Form
Reflections On The Lunar New Year
Samantha Wang from Nanchang, China
The Lunar New Year, celebrated as the most important festival in many Asian communities all over the world, is coordinated by the cycles of the moon. It is at the beginning of a year, and the date varies every year.
As the most significant holiday in China, the Lunar New Year is traditionally the time for family reunion and to honor ancestors. In my hometown, people follow a series of traditions to celebrate this meaningful festival: first, we clean our homes and put up red decorations, a symbol of good luck in the Chinese culture. This tradition is based on the belief that cleaning the house at this time of year will “sweep away” accumulated bad luck from the past year. Cleaning also makes the house ready to let the good luck enter again. People celebrate in other ways, such as dressing in new clothes, visiting relatives, going to temples and praying to the Buddha, setting off firecrackers, giving out red envelopes, and honoring ancestors.
On new year’s eve, every family has its main feast. Although there are countless traditional dishes, some, such as fish and chicken, have special meanings. They are often served whole and cut at the table, representing unity and prosperity. Also, Niangao, sticky rice cakes, and Jiaozi, dumplings, are the two necessary dishes for the new year’s feast in most families. Watching the Spring Festival Gala, whose significance might be most comparable to the Super Bowl halftime show, is another family tradition of mine. Near midnight, many families set off huge, splendid fireworks during the countdown. Lunar New Year’s celebration usually lasts fifteen days, and my favorite celebration is the lantern festival on the last day. People write riddles on decorative paper lanterns for kids to solve, and everyone will eat Tangyuan, sweet glutinous rice balls, as the end of the new year celebration.
Helen Huang from Canton, Massachusetts
As an Asian American, the Lunar New Year holds a special place in my heart. For most people, the Lunar New Year is a time to spend with your family, share good wishes, and watch all the new year celebrations, like dragon dances, fireworks, and giving out of lucky red packets. The Lunar New Year is one of the biggest festivities in China, and it’s one of the few traditions my family still celebrates here in America.
My parents moved to America over 20 years ago from China and had my brother and me here in Massachusetts. My brother and I grew up surrounded by American culture. We played ice hockey, football, baseball, went trick or treating, celebrated Christmas, and listened to country music. Even my childhood friends were American.
For the most part, I am culturally American. But, I am also Chinese. While I grew up, my parents tried their best to incorporate Chinese culture into my life. I ate Chinese food at home and visited my relatives in China almost every year; my parents still sometimes scream at me in Chinese when I am being exceptionally annoying!
Unfortunately, now that I am older, my Chinese-identity has faded somewhat because I am often away from my family and lack the time to connect with my Chinese heritage. But, some Chinese traditions remain in my family and my life. To me, Lunar New Year is not just a celebration of the new lunar year. It is also an important reminder to me and my family that even though we live in America and I attend a predominantly white prep school, we’re still Chinese at the root. It reminds us that the Chinese culture and traditions in my family are worth preserving.
Ryan Yang from Singapore
There are not many things I miss more about home than not being able to celebrate Lunar New year with my family.
The festivities start on the eve when my extended family gets together for our reunion dinner. The first order of business is always the ‘lo hei’ or prosperity toss. The 12 ingredients of this salad dish are highly symbolic. For example, the raw fish symbolizes abundance, green radish––eternal youth, golden crackers––wealth, oil––money flowing from all directions, and lastly, plum sauce––strong ties among family and friends. The tradition is to stand up around the dish while tossing all the ingredients in the air and reciting wishes of luck and prosperity. It is believed that the higher you toss, the more prosperous you’ll be in the new year. When I was younger, I admit that I probably enjoyed shouting the lucky phrases and making a mess by tossing more than eating the dish itself.
Growing up, one of the best things about the Lunar New Year is being able to stay up past midnight as it is believed that this will bring longevity to our parents. Our home is usually buzzing as my parents prepare to host family and friends the next day. The first thing my siblings and I have to do on Lunar New Year morning is to ‘bai nian’ to our parents, which is to serve them tea and recite lucky phrases in Chinese. In return, we look forward to receiving hongbao, or red packets containing “lucky money”. This is followed by visits to our relatives for even more red packets. Throughout the day, the feasting continues, and we get to binge on all manner of sugary snacks. Also, only for the first three days of the Lunar New Year, I get the chance to try my luck at doubling or tripling my lucky money by playing card games, generously sponsored by my grandfather.
Whether I am five, twelve or eighteen, Lunar New Year is and will always be about a fresh start, feasting on lucky foods, and most importantly, coming together as a family.
Thomas Li from Shenzhen, China
To me, the Lunar New Year means family, traditional filial piety, and cultural inheritance. Family reunion is the essence of the Lunar New Year. Most celebrations during the Lunar New Year are centered around the gathering of family with the emphasis of togetherness. You are expected to celebrate the new year with your immediate and extended families, no matter where you are and how busy you are. The result of this spirit is Chunyun, which has been called the largest annual human migration in the world and takes place before and during the Lunar New Year in China. 300 million people, almost equal to the entire population in the US, journey short or long-distance, all for the purpose of a family reunion.
The reunion dinner on the last day of the year is the most important dinner for my family and many others. It is when we yearn for a reunion with our family members and, of course, the absolutely fantastic food. My grandparents have four daughters, three of whom live in different countries in North America and Europe, and only one lives in China, so full family gatherings do not happen often. The Lunar New Year is the one rare opportunity when all four of them and their families would come together at my grandparents’ house. With that many family members together, as you can imagine, it’s a pretty lively and auspicious scene.
The concept of family also extends to a larger frame. Starting from the second day of the new year, we would visit our relatives and friends and exchange new year blessings. We would as well receive guests who are visiting us. This custom strengthens familial bonds, thus bringing us a sense of unity.
Another important theme of the Lunar New Year is “Xiao,” meaning traditional filial piety, which is one of the most important values in the Chinese culture. It manifests in many aspects of the new year celebration. Upon the start of the reunion dinner, my family first commemorates our ancestors by setting extra sets of utensils along with fully filled wine glasses on the table, symbolizing our remembrance and respect for the ancestors. During the reunion dinner, we invite elders to sit around the table first, allow them to start eating first, and use honorific expressions while speaking to them. Right after the reunion dinner comes my favorite part of the Lunar New Year: red packets. The elder generations, including grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles, give children in the families red packets containing lucky money as it is believed that they will help the little ones have a safe and sound new year. In return, those who are financially independent also give their parents and grandparents red packets, wishing them good health and longevity. I was rather lucky in that my parents do not take away my lucky money, so when I was ten, I built my first stock portfolio with my red packets.
The next morning, when the new year arrives, we wake up early and give new year’s greetings to the elder, which is called Bai Nian in Chinese. Many Asian communities give similar greetings during the Lunar New Year, but the form varies depending on the country and region. For my family, which is from Hunan, China, we would send our best wishes and say auspicious phrases to the elder to show gratitude and respect.
Ever since I moved to the U.S a few years ago, I haven’t been able to celebrate the Lunar New Year with my extended family. However, it is still a must for me to Bai Nian to my parents, grandparents, and close relatives through a video call. And of course, my sending and receiving of red packets are also done digitally. As a matter of fact, collecting my lucky money is now so much easier as I no longer have to make cash deposits.
Lastly, as the most significant festival in Chinese culture, the Lunar New Year is also about cultural inheritance. As many people embraced the rapid modernization of China, traces of traditional Chinese culture seems to be diminishing. The Lunar New Year is one of the few occasions when most Chinese communities still practice traditional customs. And through the practicing of those traditions, we are able to preserve our cultural identity and reinforce our connections with those in the same ethnic group. Most importantly, Lunar New Year reminds people of their roots, no matter who they are or where they are.