“So the background story for Chinese new year is usually told to all Asian American children. Basically there was a monster called ‘Nian’ which means ‘year’ and he would prey on the villagers and eat small children and so he came every year basically. The old wise man in the village said that if everyone in the village made a lot of noise it would scare Nian away. And Nian was also apparently afraid of the color red. So that’s why every year on Chinese New Year Chinese people celebrate with a lot of firecrackers because they are very very noisy and their favorite color to string up on houses is the color red.”
In many other tellings (told to me in my youth by Chinese teachers and parents) of this piece of folklore, the monster is called the “Nianguai” most literally meaning “year monster”. Additionally, the old wise man is not a villager, but a passing god thanking the villagers for their hospitality. There are often more details about how the passing god is treated by the villagers and the sorts of celebrations that go on with the banishment of the Nianguai, but the purpose of the story stays the same: the narrative explains why Chinese people celebrate the lunar new year using copious amounts of red decorations and firecrackers.
Firecrackers and all manner of fireworks are lit during Chinese New Year because they have the elements of cleansing fire while being ostentatious and festive. Red adds to the boldness of New Year celebrations as its the most visible color. Additionally, we might place significance in the color red because it is the color our our blood. Blood gives us life, but when its visible, we are hurt or dying. Due to this association, it is fitting for the celebration of a New Year. In a New Year’s celebration, we celebrate the death of an old year and the birth of a New Year.
Yuan, Haiwang. The magic lotus lantern and other tales from the Han Chinese. Westport, Conn: Libraries Unlimited, 2006. Print. 168-169
“The Winter Solstice Festival is very important to the Chinese culture. It is celebrated around December 21, the shortest day of the year. This festival celebrates longer daylight, which means that there’s more positive energy. For this festival, families get together and eat tangyuan. Tangyuan are glutinous rice balls that represent reunion. It allows families to reunite.”
My informant learned the item when she grew up in Taiwan. It’s an important Chinese tradition that most people participate in. My mom has been celebrating the Winter Solstice Festival ever since she was a little kid, and now my family celebrates it every year.
My family celebrates the festival on December 21. We have a huge family reunion with my aunts and uncles. We go to a Chinese restaurant to eat a delicious dinner, while catching up on everybody’s life. After dinner, each family separates and goes home. At home, my mom cooks tangyuan for my whole family. Usually, she makes several stuffed tangyuan and many small plain ones.
My mom enjoys this celebration because she loves family get-togethers. With the busy lives that everyone leads now, my parents do not get to see their brothers and sisters often. This festival is a chance for everyone to reunite. This celebration is particularly important to my mom because of the fact that we always have a family reunion on this day. This day also allows my mom to sit down with my family while eating tangyuan.
I think that this festival is significant to Chinese culture and Chinese families. I agree with my mom, and I think that families really don’t have very much time to sit down and talk to each other. Even family dinners are becoming so rare in American families. Parents are always working and children have extracurricular activities and large amounts of homework that keep them from eating at a set time. Also, this festival shows Chinese values. Chinese people value positive things, so the fact that after the winter solstice is over and there will be days with longer daylight is relative to their beliefs.
As part of the Persian New Year, my informant’s Jewish school held a Persian Dance Contest. My informant described it in the following transcript of our interview:
“Every year during the Persian New Year, a holiday which honors the Jews of Persia, we have a Persian dance contest. Any student, pretty much everybody, would take part in these dances. The winners got prizes, like gift cards. Judges were usually parents that were from Persia. Everybody loved the holiday: dancing felt silly and fun, and it was a good break from the usual school day.”
The Persian Dance contest links all of the students to a heritage only 40% have. Sharing the dances and emphasizing the authenticity (through the “actual” Persian judges”), the students become involved in a different culture and identity, raising awareness of other cultures and solidifying the group as a whole.