Meet Rebecca, an assistant itinerary planner, who is one of the newest staff members in our China office. She is from Central China in Hubei province from the hometown of Jingmen City. Summer, also an itinerary planner is from the Guangdong countryside and a recent college graduate. Wendy Lee coordinates visas and travel insurance in our US office. Wendy has a bit of blended Chinese and American experiences. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, with parents who had immigrated to the US as teenagers. Each staff member shares a bit of something unique regarding their CNY experiences.
Eve of New Year
Rebecca from Hubei province:
“This is a big time of the year for all families to get together to dine and celebrate. Usually one goes to the maternal grandmother’s house. My grandma and grandpa and the uncles and aunties would clean up the house carefully, put up the new calendar on the wall and hang new pictures on the wall of the living room. My oldest brother is a calligrapher, so he is the one who writes the “Chunlians” or spring couplets which are posted on the gates during Spring Festival. Typically they contain auspicious words such as “The Best of Things”; “The Treasures of Heaven.”; or “Days of Peace, Year In, Year Out”: A Spring for Good Fortune This Year and Every Year”. After redecorating the house all the family members get busy with preparing the food.
On the eve of New Year, it is a folk custom to stay up late or all night and pray for peace in the coming year. This night every house is brightly lit, in the hope that anything that might bring people bad fortune will disappear under the dazzling lights. On this special evening, it is also a time for us to sit together to watch the Spring Festival Gala Evening Show which is televised at 8 pm. The whole nation will watch this program simultaneously with its comedy skits and dialogue that highlights the show. Kids are always excited and busy eating all kind of snacks, special candies and fruits. The most exciting moment was the countdown to midnight. Then we all rush outside to light fireworks and watch the midnight sky light up as people toss flower blossoms in the air. I especially enjoy this moment of the celebration and we will oftentimes eat round rice glutinous dumplings to signify family togetherness at midnight.
We have some traditional home-made food, it is called Rou gao; like meat loaf and yu gao (like fish loaf). It was preferred by the emperor once and now is renowned and has a literal name as “Panlong cai” or is called “Crouching Dragon dish”. These two dishes are my favorite and play an indispensible part of our dinner.
We have two main hot pots; the first is a fish hot pot, which gives us a symbol for wonderful prosperity for the next year. The spicy beef hot pot indicates good luck. Before all the dishes are served, we play fireworks outside in the courtyard first. There will be moments when we kids propose toasts to our respected elders and express gratitude and blessing like good heal and prosperous business for them in the next year. One dish that cannot be missed is round rice glutinous dumplings. In Chinese we call it tang yuan (Yuan means round and symbolizes reunion). Before all the dishes are served, we would set off fireworks outside in the courtyard to let all the bad luck and misfortune out. At this time younger family members propose toasts to respected elders and express gratitude and say words of blessings for good health and prosperous business for the coming year.
Wendy: “Growing up, we pretty much celebrated holidays with food. It was a common way to bring the family together without really having to talk much. Asian parents are not much for talking and expressing themselves. Making food for your children was a way of showing love, therefore, gorging your children is a sure sign that your Mother loves you. During CNY, my mom pulled out all the stops when it came to food for celebrating.”
We used to go to my maternal grandparent’s house since the majority of my mother’s side family with children would be there. For New Year’s Eve dinner, my mother would make her best dishes and some that also had good sounding meanings. My favorite dishes were: “Fat-choy” soup made of a special seaweed (which sounded like “fat-choy”) and veggies and ham, lettuce wraps filled with minced pork and dried oysters, a whole steamed fish, a fresh chicken (with head still attached of course; steamed tofu with shrimp a chicken medley poured over, long vermicelli noodles pan fried with seafood and veggies; and a slew of other dishes till the table was covered with food. The whole poultry and fish symbolized being whole, and the abundance of food meant that times were good that we were well off enough to afford the food and celebrate.
Traditions and Taboos
Rebecca: We Chinese people do have some superstitions. In the New Year we are taught not to utter sinister or bad words and refrain from using foul language for fear of bad luck. Also, negative terms and the word “four” or “si” in Chinese sounds like the word for death and are not to be uttered. Death and dying are never mentioned during the New Year and ghost stories are especially taboo. We are encouraged to speak all positive words and have a good mood everyday. And, care must be taken not to break any dishes or other things on the first day of the New Year.
Summer: Firecrackers play a very important role during Chinese New Year in my hometown. From New Years Eve Day, you can hear firecrackers everywhere and it will last for almost a half of month. It is believed that firecrackers can scare away evils and bring good fortune. Especially on New Year’s Eve, people will try to be the first one to light firecrackers at twelve o’clock, midnight. It is very auspicious to do so.
Also, oranges are very important for Chinese New Year, because its pronunciation is the same as “auspicious”. People will put oranges besides the well in old days and by the water faucet in modern times, because water is an important element to bring money in Chinese Fengshui. Oranges will be put in many places in the house, from decorations to food and it is an important accessory as gifts to friends during this time.
Wendy: for the longest time, my parents would always arrive at someone’s home with a gift. Oranges were almost always in the bag along with some sort of sweet like chocolates or cookies. Oranges were the color of gold, and therefore were considered a good offering. Almost always we would get some back, or some sort of trade off happened and we returned home with some fruit. I assume for the virtue of sharing. The same tradition happened with my husband’s family. The funny thing is, to this day some of us still carry on the tradition. A cousin came by whom we haven’t seen in a few years. Laughingly she arrived with a box full of clementines. Another occasion was when we were invited for dinner at our neighbor’s house and their parents were going to be there. For some reason, we hurried and bought a sack of oranges. Both my husband and I were not sure why we did it, but were pretty proud of the fact that we were showing respect to the family sharing their food with us and welcoming us to their home. Our neighbor’s parents were fully surprised to hear that we were raised in America and that they thought these kinds of showing respect were lost. My mom was also happy to hear that her implied teachings of respect somehow funneled down.”
Favorite Childhood Memories
“Another thing that my parents did when we received Red Envelopes, was to of course thank the person, and then we were allowed to actually spend our money!! That never happened in our house. We always were taught to “save, save, save”. But on CNY, this was different. We were allowed to spend it on the condition that it had to be on something that made us happy and that we could share. So of course my siblings and I would buy candy or pastries. As we got older, and the envelopes were bigger, we were able to buy some candy and new clothes.”
Rebecca: “The 15th day of the first month is an important tradition festival in China; members of a family get together to mark the occasion. On this day, we call it “Guo Xiao nian”. It is a celebration second in size to celebrating the New Year Day. As a kid, my mom would take me to the bustling street in the evening to watch all those lanterns on display on either side of the road. Lanterns are of all shapes and kinds and in multiple colors. It is really breathtaking to see all those man-made lanterns. We would take lots of pictures for our memories. My mom would give me a lantern as a gift too. I would lift the lantern and light the dark when walking. It was a great time in my life!”
So, hopefully you’ve enjoyed this peek into the lives of our staff members, as they recollect Lunar New Year celebrations of years past. Parents all strive to provide some excellent memories and traditions to pass along to our children. Hopefully you’ve gained insights on how to plan your family’s Lunar New Year traditions and celebrations filled with fun memories, meaningful connections and a lasting legacy.