Chinese New Year Celebration – Chinese American Folk Ritual/Festival

1. Text

When asked to share a folk tradition, the informant responded with the following:

“For Chinese New Year, when I was younger I would fly from China to US during my winter break and go celebrate [the holiday] at my grandma’s house in k-town (Korea Town).”

“We would make dumplings and in some of the dumplings my grandma would put a dime or penny or date in them. If you get the special dumpling, you get $1 or $5.”

“After the meal, we would play mahjong and watch Chinese New Year celebration live stream. This was a tradition that my grandma had done since my dad and his siblings were kids, so it’s a pretty long tradition”

“We would try to wear a lot of red for the new years. Usually my grandma would make dish too because my last name sounds like fish but also my dad loves eating fish.”

“Everyone gave out red envelopes to the kids, usually containing 50 to 100 dollars.”

2. Context

Informant relation to the piece:

The informant is Chinese-American and is currently a college student in the US. The informant shares this family ritual from their memory of participating in it. The informant’s grandma is the one who initiated this ritual, which is also a commonly practiced ritual/festival in Chinese culture.

Informant interpretation of the piece:

It is a ritual that brings together the family from different places in the world. It is a festive one since there is good food, fun activities, and presents.

3. Analysis

Chinese New Year is a traditional Chinese holiday and festival on the new year of the lunar calendar. It usually spans a week or two, and on each day there are different customs and rituals to perform. The main one is on the first day of the new year where the family gathers with all the relatives on the husband or father’s side of the family, which is closest to the ritual collected above from the informant. Since this ritual is only performed once a year, it is regarded with great importance, which explains why the informant would be flying across the Pacific from China in order to perform this ritual with their grandma in America. Chinese New Year is the Chinese equivalent of Thanksgiving for Americans. It serves as an excuse and incentive for the entire family to get together, which is pleasant for some and unpleasant for others. Similar to the ritual of Thanksgiving, there is a set of traditional Chinese foods that are prepared and eaten on Chinese New Year. In the ritual collected above, the foods are specific and personal to the informant, which are dumplings and fish, showing that the traditional foods eaten on New Years differ in each family. Unlike the trademark turkey that is eaten on Thanksgiving, there is not one food that is always eaten on Chinese New Year since the ritual is performed by Chinese people spread across different regions, which would have different foods available, especially for a family like the informant’s in the US. Another detail worth noting is the giving of red envelopes and the money prize for the special dumplings. Since Chinese culture places great emphasis on monetary prosperity, these customs for New Years reinforce to children that there is luck required to gain prosperity and the importance of money. Whereas Thanksgiving has no such customs, reflecting the contrast between American and Chinese culture on the concept of money for children.