By Victoria Cheng ’16
Here come the lions and dragons. The Chinese community celebrates Chinese New Year on February 19, carrying out auspicious traditions for the year to come and reuniting with family and friends.
“During Chinese New Year, I celebrate at my aunt’s house in Manhattan and then later my cousin’s in Queens and Boston,” said Bryan Xu ’16.
Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year, is the first day of the year according to the lunisolar calendar. Falling between the months of January and February, the holiday is observed by many Chinese and East Asian communities worldwide. According to the Chinese Animal Zodiac, (shēngxiào in Chinese) a repeating cycle of twelve years with each year represented by an animal, this year is the Year of the Sheep, also called the Year of the Goat or the Year of the Ram.
To start off the New Year, most Chinese households get a thorough cleaning to get rid of the dust and bad vibes, to bring in luck. Red decorations adorned with golden Chinese characters, often words related to luck, money, health and longevity, are usually put up around the house to promote good fortune for the entire family. Another auspicious tradition is to get haircuts and wear new clothes to symbolize a clean start for the New Year.
“I usually hang up the decorations with my family and burn incense all over the house for my ancestors,” said Garmen Xie ’16.
The Chinese New Year holiday traditionally lasts for 15 days. However, most Chinese households in America do not celebrate the entire holiday, only certain days. On the night before the start of the holiday, the families usually eat a vegetarian dinner. The first day, New Year’s Day, is when the families honor their elder’s and visit them to celebrate the holiday together. For breakfast, families normally eat a vegetarian meal, called Buddha’s delight or luóhànzhāi in Chinese. Children and other members of the family often greet one another with a saying “kung hei fat choy”, roughly translated as “congratulations and be prosperous” and culturally equivalent to “happy new year.”
Parents and married adults give red envelopes (called lai see or hongbao) containing money to children and unmarried adults, a special tradition to bring on good luck and ward off evil spirits. It is also a tradition to keep the envelopes under one’s pillow and sleep on it for seven days before opening them to promote good luck.
“One of the main things I look forward to during Chinese New Year is the red envelopes,” said Kelly Chen ‘16. “ That’s my income for the year.”
The reunion dinner, nian ye fan in Chinese, is the main event where families often come together over a large meal. After eating a vegetarian breakfast, families go all out with seafood, vegetables and a grand assortment of meats, such as boiled chicken, beef and pork.
“I normally have a huge Chinese New Year feast with my family,” said Judy Tso ’16. “Basically, I eat until I pop.”
While the Asian countries have firework shows to celebrate the New Year, a Chinese New Year parade is held in Chinatown, Manhattan and Eighth Avenue, Brooklyn. Lion dancers, attracting families and tourists, go from door to door and bring good luck to the stores they enter. Lion and dragon dancers (wǔshī in Chinese), dressed in costumes, move to the loud beat of a drum and the clashes of a cymbal to expel malicious spirits. Touching the lion’s head is also said to be good luck.
“One of the best parts of Chinese New Year is getting to see the lion dancers and playing with the firecrackers,” said Nicky Chan ’17.
A holiday to celebrate with family and friends, Chinese New Year brings vitality and luck to Chinese households and excitement to the children.
“ I can’t wait until it’s Chinese New Year,” said Victor Lee ‘16. “It’s the best time of the year.”