Me: Can you tell me a bit about the Chinese New Year that you were talking about?
J: Yeah, well, every year my family celebrates the Chinese New Year…we also call it the Lunar New Year. Since I’m from California, I don’t know all of the details about it, but I do know that there are, uh….about…fifteen or so days of it. Oh! But what I do know is that, uh, it’s tradition for the elders in a family to give the children, er, red envelopes.
Me: Red envelopes? Is there some significance in that?
J: Well, the envelopes usually have money inside them. There can be different amounts of money, too. My father told me that usually it’s a married couple that gives the red envelopes to unmarried young people. I guess, it’s for good luck with life and marriage, or something like that.
Me: Interesting! So do you keep the red envelopes of do you throw them away afterwards?
J: We generally keep them under our pillow – at least that’s how I was taught to do it – and sleep on it for seven days after the New Year, then I open it. It’s supposed to symbolize, erm, good luck too.
Me: I’ve heard about hanging lanterns for Chinese New Year too. Does your family do that?
J: Um, back when my parents were in China, they did, but nowadays, we don’t really do much of that. They did tell me, that um, back then they would hang red paper lanterns and watch the lion dances, which is pretty cool, haha.
Me: Real lions?!
J: No, haha, there are people in costumes and they do dances that are supposed to ward off evil spirits and things like that.
I have always heard rumbling about the Chinese New Year, but it was nice to finally get some clarity about the kinds of activities that take place during the festivities. One particular thing that I noticed was the color red. Red has symbolically represented power and to include it in festivities that bring in a new year with all kinds of possibilities, it seems to me that it could represent, to the participants of the festival, a new year of strength and prosperity in all that they do. Though, just a theory, it’s very clear that the traditions of a culture aren’t geographically bound as my informant, who was born and bred here in America, still celebrates the New Year with his family.