This is a
transcription of an interview with a friend from high school, identified as A. In
this piece, I am identified as IC.
IC: So, tell me
about Chinese New Year. Where does it come from?
A: Lunar New Year is
something that happens at the beginning of every calendar year and so it’s also
often referred to as the spring festival. There are 12 animals that represent
each year and how this myth came to be is that there were these animals who were
basically told to engage in a race to determine who would be symbols for each
year. The twelve animals in order are Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake,
Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig. The rat is first because it rode on the
ox’s back and cheated.
I heard about a
variation that the cat was tricked out of the race by the mouse which is why they
hate each other. I forget exactly how the cat was tricked out, but this
supposedly also explains why cat chases the mouse so much.
IC: What does your
family does to celebrate? Like what do you eat and what activities do you do?
A: And so one of
the things that we eat every year is this thing called 年糕 (nin gou) which translates to new year cake and
so it’s this It’s like not really a cake it’s like a slice of it’s like glutinous.
We also eat 蘿蔔糕 (lo baak guo) which
is like a radish cake and it’s my personal favourite. Then there are traditions
associated with it and the most popular with children at the very least is the
giving of the red package.
IC: Yeah, I
A: Yeah, so it’s married
couples, and only married couples, give away red packets to the younger
IC: Why is it red?
A: It’s a symbolism
of colour because red a lucky colour in Chinese culture and that’s why you see
in Chinese brides wear red during weddings, simply because it’s a very lucky
colour. So, by giving red package, the deal here is that you’re helping give them
luck for that year.
IC: How much money is
in the envelope?
A: That depends on the person giving the envelope.
So usually newlyweds give less because they won’t have as much money and also,
they don’t want to build high expectations. But the tradition is called拜年 (bai nian) and first you go to your father’s
grandparents place to pay respects for the new year and then you go to your
other grandparent’s place. I think that’s the order but I’m not really
particularly sure about that because my dad’s parents live in LA, so I usually
just go to my mom’s side of the family for that. It’s just going there spending
time with your grandparents and like wishing them well for the new year.
IC: Are there any
specific things that you’re supposed to do to pay respects or is it just like talking
to them and spending time with them?
A: Well, this
applies to the whole festival in general actually but there are a lot of four-word
sayings that you say. They are blessings
that you say to people. Some examples are 年年有餘 (nin nin yau yu) which means “may you be
prosperous every year” and 快高長大 (fai gou zheung dai) which means “grow up well”. The main one is 恭喜發財 (gong hei faat choi) which means “happy new
IC: Yeah, I
remember that phrase. Are there any other foods that you eat? Like aren’t you
supposed to eat fish or something? That’s what I remember from Chinese class in
A: Are we? I don’t
know… I don’t think we do that.
IC: Oh, okay. I
mean, I guess it’s different for everyone. Like you don’t have to eat
everything you’re supposed to.
A: Oh, there is
this one thing where Chinese households have a candy box during New Year. I don’t
know why but there’s a box of candy and sweet stuff in every household.
My informant is 23 years old and she is my friend from high school, which was in Hong Kong. Though she is American, she went She went to New York for college and graduated last year. She is currently working in Hong Kong. She knows about this tradition because her family is from Hong Kong and celebrates Lunar New Year.
I asked her about
this tradition because I vaguely remember learning about Chinese traditions for
Lunar New Year during Chinese class in high school. I thought it would be
interesting to ask someone who comes from a Chinese/Hong Kong background to ask
about the specifics since I don’t know much about it. All I knew was from textbooks
designed for speakers learning it as a second language.
Hearing my friend
talk about how her family celebrates it and the traditions that she knows about
was interesting to hear as different countries celebrate it differently. It was
informative to learn about some foods that she eats and sayings other than the popular
phrase that means happy new year.