Tag Archives: new years

Chinese New Year Practices

During the Chinese Lunar New Year, one must keep all of the lights within the house on. This is for wealth and good luck. Also one eats spring dumplings, dumplings without meat. Red signs wishing good luck and prosperity are hung around the house.

C is an older Chinese immigrant who migrated to the US over 20 years ago. She still has very close contact with relatives in China and regularly participates in Chinese cultural practices.

Context: I interviewed C about Chinese cultural customs and beliefs.

I find this interesting because of the level of detail that goes into a new years celebration. Typically in American tradition, New Years is celebrated with watching a clock tick to the New Year. This is different to the Chinese New Year celebration in that there is more meanings to the events that occur in the Chinese New Year as well as a stronger emphasis on prosperity and wealth. The popular saying, 恭喜發財, “Gong Xi Fa Cai” Or “Wish you prosperity and wealth” actively wishes the person wealth. Overall, wealth is a strong goal in Chinese culture, where everyone’s goal is to become wealthy. Wealth as a goal is not seen as inherently greedy, more of something to attain through diligence, not ruthlessness.

For another version of Chinese New Year, see:
Lin, G. (2013). Bringing in the New Year. Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

Palabok, New Year’s, and Circular Shapes

On New Year’s Eve, I always cook palabok… it’s a, it’s a rice noodle dish with shrimp stock and pork… but the most important part is the stuffs you put on the top.  You know how I always have you arrange everything in a circle, right? Have you ever noticed that even the toppings are circles?  So I put the noodles in a circular serving platter, and we have the slices of hard boiled egg, the chopped green onions, the boiled shrimp, squid rings, the calamansi halves.  All of that is supposed to be circular to invite wealth and abundance in the coming year.  Di ako sure kung talagang Pilipino yung tradition na ‘yun… (I’m not sure if that tradition really is Filipino) because the idea of circles is usually part of the Chinese culture.  Maybe it’s an influence, I don’t know, I didn’t really ever think much about when I started doing it or why.

Background: The informant is a 48-year old Filipina immigrant to the United States who is married to a Filipino-Chinese man.  She learned how to cook traditional Filipino foods from scratch from her mother and oldest brother in the Philippines, where cooking meals from household items was essential to maximizing the volume of food when money was scarce.

Context: This conversation happened at the dinner table, where the informant and I were eating store-bought palabok that was not arranged in circles.

I am not really very well-connected to the Chinese aspects of my identity, since I was raised only in the Philippines and the United States, where even my Chinese relatives had largely assimilated to the cultures of their respective environments.  Arranging food in a way that invites wealth from a different culture’s beliefs is a practice of my mother’s that I found more interesting after I began to reflect upon what she told me.  The circular food and arrangement is a call back to her previous life in the Philippines, where financial stability was a primary concern at every turn.  The sprinkling of a different culture’s traditions (likely my father’s influence) reminded me of myself, the way that they are mixed together.  Food is an incredibly important aspect of family life in the Philippines, and families in a household scarcely eat their meals separately.

Jumping on New Year’s

This is something I told my three children growing up — if they jumped as high as they could once the clock struck midnight, the tallest height they reached would be how tall they will grow up to be.

Background: The informant is a 60 year-old Filipina immigrant to the United States.  She told me that her mother told her and her own siblings the same tradition growing up. While she does not exactly believe in its practical use, it was a harmless and fun way of ringing in the coming growth in the new year.

Context: This belief was told to me during a weekly luncheon that always follows our Sunday church services.

Probably my favorite pieces in this collection are the rituals whose origins can’t really be traced, so it’s unclear how or why they came to be.  But used now, they are just a cemented given in family situations as part of their experience of the culture.  It’s unlikely that there is any real basis in the idea of freezing heights in time beyond the general folk belief, but most people nowadays just do them for the sake of novelty.

Doce Uvas

Context: Subject is from New York City. 


“With my family, we have doce uvas, or twelve grapes, which is a tradition in Latin American households. So basically, households will set up a cup of twelve grapes for each member of the household, and once it’s officially New Years we celebrate and eat 12 grapes. Each grape represents a wish for next year, so it’s sort of like a good luck thing. But also, the reason it’s twelve grapes, is because you know twelve months in the year, which is important to keep in mind with this tradition”. 


This piece of folklore points out a commonality amongst many rituals, specifically them taking place at these liminal spaces in time. In this case, the grapes are eaten right in between one year and another, a perfect opportunity to get in touch with the supernatural in a sense. New Years in general is a ripe time for ritual and folkloric activities, with a new year representing endless amounts of opportunity and excitement, that obviously everything would be done to ensure it goes well. 

12 Round Fruits on New Year’s Eve

Background information: My dad is My mom is a second-generation Filipino-American, meaning he was born here in the US. His parents immigrated from the Philippines when they were both relatively young, and he grew spending a good amount of time with his family and distant relatives.

Dad: Yeah, every year, before New Year’s Eve, we buy twelve round fruits and make them the center piece at the table at the start of the new year.

Me: Why do we do this? Where did you learn this from?

Dad: Growing up we did this, I think. The fruits represent abundance and help us make sure that the coming year will be hearty and happy for everyone in the household. You have to have a fruit for each month, and they all have to be round.

Me: Why should the fruits all be round?

Dad: Uh…I don’t know, probably to represent the cycle of a full year? It’s hard to find 12 round ones because that’s more than they usually have at one grocery store. We always go to the asian market to get a good variety of fruits. So we end up with ones you wouldn’t eat any other time of the year, and the table looks really nice with all the fruits there.

I remember this tradition really well, as my dad has always been adamant about making sure we start the New Year with 12 round fruits on our table. I have many memories of us going to multiple markets to find fruits that were round enough, and all different enough. I myself am not sure how much my dad believes in this tradition, or if he just feels so strongly about it because it has always been a practice for him and his family, but either way, it has made me feel strongly about it too. I think this is a good example of showing how folklore can endure many generations, because even though it is not a very popular or well-known practice, I want to keep doing it for all the years to come, and I’m sure my dad does, too.