Tag Archives: chinese new year

Chinese New year

Context: XZ is a 25 year old from Wuhan China. She is a graduate, international student at USC studying marketing and communications. She is also my friend and coworker. I decided to call her and ask her how she and her family celebrate New years. 

YM: Tell me about your new years

XZ: Our new year is lunar New Years

YM: What do you guys do for new years? How do you guys celebrate ? 

XZ: The “year” in Chinese is actually a monster, so on New year eve, the family will gather around, the elder will give children a red envelope with money because that money is called “ya sui qian” meaning: suppress evil; and when the new year come, every family will shoot off firecrackers to scare the “year” monster away

YM: that’s interesting.. Where did this monster come from ? 

XZ: So some say it came from deep sea and the others say it lives inside the mountain

YM: when do you guys celebrate again?

XZ: our official celebration starts from Lunar new year eve and will last until Lunar year’s January 15th

YM: Do you believe in this monster, what are your personal thoughts? 

XZ: Personally I don’t believe it, and most of Chinese don’t believe it. Maybe little kids will…like western kids believe in Santa. But all the traditions are around the story, and I love the family getting together and applying those customs makes me feel a sense of the sacred to mark closure and restart. Although the government  has banned firecracker because it causes to much air pollution and sound pollution, which I actually agree with it… and I believe receiving red envelope is all kids favourite part, friends sometimes compete with each other to see who received the most of money

YM: aww that’s really nice, thank you for sharing 

Background info: XZ has celebrated Chinese New Years since she was a child, and even now that she’s been far away from home she still celebrates. She’s from Yiyang in Hunan Province, China. 

Analysis: XZ’s new year seems to be based on a Chinese legend about a monster named Nian who would terrify the villagers and eat children at the end of the lunar year. The new year’s celebration seems to be about defeating this monster and starting a new year free of a ferocious monster. This legend seems to bring a symbolic meaning for chinese new year, like XZ mentioned for her its a “sense of the sacred to mark closure and restart.” From my research in the story when an old man got rid of the monster, red papers, firecrackers, and candles were found. This is why new years are celebrated with red envelopes and the firecrackers. I find it really interesting how in Chinese culture new year one celebrates the defeat of something that was bringing calamity to the land, whereas American new year one celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. One is based on a legend and the other is based on a religious myth. 

Chinese New Year

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 remember those.

A: Yeah, so it’s married couples, and only married couples, give away red packets to the younger generation.

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 year”.

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 high school.

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.

Background:

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.

Context:

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.

Thoughts:

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.

Chinese New Year: Don’t Flip the Fish

Main Piece:

Informant: On Chinese New Year’s. We always eat fish because fish is like a lucky food but we don’t flip the fish over. Usually I feel like Asian people are pretty good about getting all of the meat like chicken and stuff because wasting is bad, but we don’t like, flip the fish that we eat on chinese new year, because that’s like bad luck. Because, I’m not super sure where it originates from, but if you – essentially the idea is like if you like, flip the fish, then the boat will flip over.

Interviewer: So you also don’t do this on boats, just in general.

Informant: Yeah, yeah.

Interviewer: So like if you want to get all the fish, you just kind of got to go through the ribs and everything and try to like dig it out from underneath.

Informant: Yeah.

Background:

My informant is a friend and fellow student at USC. She was raised in the LA area but her family is ethnically Chinese and immigrated from Vietnam so she has multiple East Asian influences in her life. Her family regularly celebrates Chinese New Year’s which is where she became aware of this tradition.

Context:

I had set up a Zoom call with my friend because she said she had some examples of folklore that she could share with me. This sample was shared during that call

Analysis:

Some quick research reveals that this is a common and well-known practice, especially in coastal regions of China for exactly the reason my informant described – it’s considered similar to turning over a fishing boat. It makes sense then that this practice originated in coastal regions of China as a greater proportion of the population would make its livelihood through fishing. 

Seeing as how my informant’s family is ethnically Chinese yet resided in Vietnam for the last couple generations it is very plausible that fish was a large part of their diet and thus they kept this tradition going all the way to America.

Goodluck Dumplings

My informant shared a piece of Chinese culture she practices with her family during the Chinese New Year:

Informant: Ok so for Chinese New Year, we make…the tradition is to eat Dumplings…and then we will hide one coin in one of the dumplings and whoever eats that dumpling will have good luck.

Context:

I was talking with a group of friends while we were working on a class project and some of the group members wanted to share pieces of their traditions with me. It was a very casual setting and the performance took place in front of three other individuals.

Background:

The informant is from Hong Kong, China, but attends school at USC. This practice is something she normally does with her family during the Chinese New Year.

Analysis:

I found this really interesting because it reminds me of how in New Orleans, the baby is hidden in the Mardis Gras cake. Whoever finds the baby will receive good luck for the year. While these two traditions use very different foods and tokens to spread luck, they are surprisingly similar.

Red Envelopes and Lucky Money on Chinese New Year

Main Text

Subject: So…I think the idea is that…the rule that my family uses is, if you’re still in school…you receive. And once you have a job, like a full-time job, then you give. Um. And then so, when we were kids, like, each set of parents would usually give an envelope to each kid. And I think when we were younger it was like…just like, pocket money, like, maybe five bucks, 10 bucks. And like, as we got older, maybe 20, 40.

Um. And then I think for…for all of us I think when we graduated high school it was like, a bigger sum?

Background

The subject is a 22-year-old Taiwanese-American woman in her fourth year at USC. Her parents are immigrants from Taiwan, and celebrating Chinese festivals have been a family tradition since childhood.

The interviewer is a 21-year-old Taiwanese-American student in his third year at USC. As someone who is from the same folk group, he is familiar with most major Chinese festivals.

Context

The subject was describing a ritual associated with the festival of Chinese New Year, called red envelopes (紅包), which contained lucky money (壓歲錢).

The subject additionally describes two contexts where lucky money was given. The first is a situation involving a family friend named Annie, who had been working this year and stated she wouldn’t be accepting any red envelopes. However, the subject’s parents still brought Annie a red envelope, causing “a little bit of conflict.” Annie ended up taking the envelope anyway. The subject reflects on the absurdity of the incident, thinking about her own future as a grad school student. She wonders if, by that point, the decision rule would still continue to make sense, given that she will probably be in school until the age of 30.

After the interviewer mentioned that there were lawsuits going around for children suing parents who had taken their lucky money, the subject laughed, and brought up an instance when her dad took her lucky money. During the sophomore summer year of high school, her family went to visit Taiwan for the first time in a couple of years. Her grandma on her dad’s side had given her a really big sum, supposedly for college. When her grandma gave the money to her, her dad told her that she had to turn over the sum of money to him, and afterwards, she “never saw a dime” of it.

Interviewer Analysis

These two contexts illuminate the purpose of red envelopes with relation to Chinese New Year. Chinese New Year is one of many festivals that celebrate the passage of time. In the instance of Annie, the red envelope serves as a rite of passage. One demonstrates that they have grown up, by demonstrating they have earned enough money to handle the financial obligation of giving red envelopes to the children who haven’t. The conflict for Annie arose because even though Annie had believed she had earned the right to play the grown-up role in the red envelope ritual, the subject’s parents disagreed, and still put her in the position of being a child receiver. The fact that Annie still ended up taking the red envelope shows her lower status with regards to the more established adults in the ritual.

The second instance in Taiwan further shows the purpose of red envelopes as a coming-of-age ritual. Parents, like the subject’s father who took her red envelope money for college, have reasonable anxiety over whether children have the financial responsibility to handle large sums of money. They feel that as adults, they have the duty to safeguard that money. Safeguarding the money is not only a financial practicality—it is a social signal. It demonstrates to other adults that the parents are fulfilling their social duties as financially responsible adults, and it also teaches children about their cultural status: adults are higher than children, and the way to attain that height, is through practicing financial responsibility.

Chinese New Year Doll (Tu’er Ye)

Informant:

M, a 21-year-old, Chinese male who grew up in Beijing until he turned 17 before moving to the United States. He now lives in Los Angeles, California, and attends the University of Southern California with his girlfriend who is from Southern China.

Background info:

M’s first language was Mandarin. His family spoke Mandarin and he only learned English before moving to the United States. Because he grew up in Beijing, he believes himself to be fairly knowledgeable about the folklore that every day people participate in. This is one of the Chinese traditions in their household.

Context:

This is a Chinese tradition that M’s family would participate in during the Lunar New Year in Beijing. Because he was close with all his family, he and his younger sister would often have to do these traditions twice a year, once with their mother’s side of the family and again with their father’s side. This was told to me during a small get-together at his house. The following is a transcript of the piece as told by M.

Main piece:

“This is also about Lunar New Year. Lunar New Year like spans for two weeks. By the end of that… this is specific to Beijing… you’ve got something called Tu’er Ye (in Chinese: 兔儿爷). Basically, this means uhh… ‘lord rabbit’… Um, so essentially, it’s like a little doll made from porcelain… a porcelain doll… and the tradition is that you are supposed to get one at the beginning of the year and get rid of it at the end of the year. Essentially, it is still like a paganism folklore thing that is supposed to serve as protection for your family. I remember that in the traditional folklore, you needed to like break or shatter the doll at the end of the year, but we don’t really do that anymore, we just get rid of it and get a new one. We would never really do this as a family, you would sort of just know it was there. It’s always the same chubby rabbit who is like riding on a tiger. It’s kind of weird, but people still do it. I think people would break the doll to represent kind of breaking all the bad fortune from the previous year, and you get a new one to have a fresh start.”

Thoughts:

I found it interesting that the tradition involved breaking the glass/porcelain doll to dispel bad fortune. In a lot of other folklore that I have seen, the breaking of something as fragile as glass is considered bad luck. One example of this is the folk belief that breaking a mirror will result in seven years of bad luck, a popular belief that I heard numerous times as a child. Doing a little more research on this topic, I found that Tu’er Ye is actually related to moon worship, and he is considered to be the moon rabbit of the goddess Chang’e. The keeping of a porcelain doll visible in the house all year reminded me of various scary stories involving dolls that came to life. Because the Tu’er Ye doll is supposed to represent, or shield from, the family’s bad fortune, I can see a slight connection behind the horror story dolls being an embodiment of evil.

Chinese New Year

Context & Analysis

The subject and I were eating lunch together and I asked him to tell me about any traditions he shared with his family. The subject told me he doesn’t have a strong connection with his parents, which I think underscores the great importance of Chinese New Year for him; the fact that he travels to convene with his family while not being intimately close with them shows how much the tradition matters to him. The subject gave me a general overview of the traditions associated with Chines New Year but did not elaborate on specific details.

Main Piece

“For Chinese New Year’s it’s a huge deal for our family so we’ll have a meal together, but, like, it’s supposed to be a time where everyone goes home, so I try and do that as well. And, um, there’s a lot of Chinese cultural traditions associated with that: like the types of meals you’ll cook, how you eat them and like getting money from elders.”

Chinese New Year

“So for Chinese New Year, the date changes every year because of the calendar, but some of the things we do, because the culture’s really superstitious, is we take three oranges and put them on a plate in a triangle, and then you take a third orange and put it on top of the three to make something like a pyramid.  You make a few of these orange sculptures and put one in each major room of your house, like the living room, bedrooms, bathrooms, you know.  So on actual Chinese New Year when my family goes out to dinner, we leave every single light on in the house because it’s supposed to let the light wash out all the spirits from last year and leave the house open to new ones and what’s ahead.  I don’t remember exactly why we do the oranges, but the lights wash out the spirits, so at least I know that.”

ANALYSIS:

This annual ritual is really interesting to me because I was never familiar with the customs surrounding Chinese New Year, so I found this really enlightening.  It’s super fascinating to see what parts of the customs the informant knows the meaning behind and what parts have just become arbitrary to the informant.  The idea of washing away the old spirits and leaving room for the new ones is something I find really interesting and poetic, and now I just wish I knew why the oranges are a part of the custom, but because the informant didn’t know, everyone the informant tells, including me, won’t know either.

Money Burning Ceremony for Chinese New Year

Informant is a Chinese-Cambodian American from San Jose, California, an area known for its large population of people of Asian descent. This tradition is a part of the Chinese Lunar New Year celebration, which is usually a week of festivities in late January.

“So, on the last Saturday of the week of Chinese New Year, um, my family, including all of my uncles, aunts, and cousins gather around a big metal Chinese pot container thing that is lit up by a flame. We sit around it in silence and say prayers to our ancestors, and wish everyone around us good health and fortune for the new year. Once everyone is done doing that, the oldest family member hands out small stacks of fake paper money with Chinese characters and images on them. We each take turns throwing bills of money into the pit, and doing so is supposed to give our ancestors wealth and fortune in the afterlife. This is supposed to help bring good luck to their living descendants. Then, following the burning of the money, there is a feast for the family, but first some food is set out in front of an altar as an offering to the ancestors. That’s about it.”

How long has your family been doing this tradition?

“At least since I was born. I’ve done it almost every year, and my family from out of town will all come together and go to the temple to pray and perform the ceremony. It’s a very distinct memory from my childhood.”

 

Collector’s Comments:

Being from an Asian-American from San Jose as well, this tradition seems very familiar to me, yet at the same time it is different from the traditions that my family practices. The Lunar New Year celebration is a very big deal in San Jose, and involves a week of prayer at temples, decorations and parades, and feasts to honor the ancestors and bring in the New Year. However, there are many variations in the celebrations, especially between the different ethnic groups. This is an example of one of the many ways in which the holiday is celebrated.

Chinese New Year’s Shoes

Barbara is a Chinese-American who graduated with a B.S. in Psychology from the University of California, Riverside. Her parents are from Hong Kong and immigrated to the United States, before giving birth to her in Baldwin Park, Los Angeles. She recently received her Master’s in Clinical Psychology and is currently working at a clinic in downtown Los Angeles. Her hobbies are baking, exploring hipster cafes or restaurants, and reading thriller novels.

Original Script

So, um, for Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year, there’s a tradition that my family likes to follow. In addition to giving red envelopes to the youngsters who have not married yet, um, every year we like to, um, get some new clothes for the New Year, new shoes of course. And, the morning of Chinese New Year, we do a little ritual where we put on the new shoes and we kind of stomp around to step away all the bad juju and all the bad people or bad luck that will come our way for this year. And we just keep stomping, and during that time, we would chant, “Chai-siu-yurn!” Literally, it means like, “step away all the little people—the little people go away.”

Background Information about the Performance from the Informant

Ever since she could remember as a little girl, she performed this ritual with her family on every Chinese New Year’s. She enjoyed stomping on the ground and making a lot of noise for the sake of having good luck.

Context of the Performance

I interviewed the informant in my house.

Many Chinese people believe that purchasing and wearing a new pair of slippers on Chinese New Year’s would expel the negative energy from their household. By stomping on the ground of their homes, they are metaphorically stepping on the bad luck and the people who have treated them badly.

My Thoughts about the Performance

I was surprised to hear of this superstition, because my Chinese parents told me it is unlucky to buy a new pair of shoes on New Year’s Day. They said new shoes would bring me unluckiness and invite evil spirits to plague me for the coming year, since “shoes” in Cantonese is a homonym for “rough” and it sounds like the word “sigh.” Since the informant and I both have Cantonese backgrounds, I find it interesting how we have different superstitions regarding purchasing new shoes on Chinese New Year’s Day.