Nationality: Chinese American
Date of Performance/Collection: 04/10/2018
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Chinese, Shanghai dialect, French
- The main piece: Lunar New Year Traditions and Precautions
“So a lot of the traditions we have are based on earning money and wealth and things like that. So one thing that we do is we get red envelopes right. The reason they’re in red envelopes is because red is a lucky color right. And you put the money in red envelopes and you sleep on them…
“And yeah, so we sleep on the money. And another thing that we do is, uh, we cook the fish and we leave half of it raw, so that it lasts outside the fridge until the next day. Because you’re supposed to keep the fish out from New Year’s Eve to New Year’s Day, because there’s another phrase, it’s called ‘nian nian you yu’, and that means every year you will have money.
“So you clean everything in your house and when you sweep, it you sweep out of the house, and you have to take out all the trash in your house. And so on Chinese New Year’s day, you can’t use knives or scissors or even like nail clippers, because that’s like cutting things, and cutting things symbolize cutting your life. Some people eat long noodles that have never been cut, because cutting them is like cutting a lifeline.”
- Background information about the performance from the informant: why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them? Context of the performance?
The informant learned about the different traditions and precautions for Chinese New Year from performing them every year with her grandparents and mother. She somewhat resents how people see it as quaint, telling me instead that some of the preparations and precautions are tedious and mundane. The informant expanded on this by saying, “It’s annoying to have to do all the cleaning and lucky color stuff, but it kind of made me closer with my sister over complaining about it.”
- Finally, your thoughts about the piece
The informant’s traditions and precautions for Chinese New Year involve a lot of symbolism. Sleeping on money and keeping a fish both before and after the new year both seem symbolic of continuing one’s good fortune throughout the year. Cleaning the whole house and sweeping everything specifically outside could be symbolic of starting the year afresh and with a clean slate. The aversion to using any sharp objects, from knives to scissors to even nail clippers, is symbolic of preventing violence and not cutting one’s own life short—this would be an example of conversion magic, or reversing bad luck into good luck. The phrase ‘nian nian you yu’ matches the description of a dite, or a folk saying, because it is commonly said specifically on this holiday to confer good luck.
- Informant Details
The informant is an 18-year old Chinese-American female. While she grew up in the southern California area, she spent more time with her grandparents than her parents growing up, and felt that learning their Chinese traditions and language was the main way she bonded with them, while her younger sister never had that experience because her parents were out of school by then.