We’re well into the new year now and it hasn’t taken long to fall into the predictable pattern of lack of follow-through on my well-intentioned resolutions made when 2021 debuted. January 1, I ate my obligatory black-eyed peas, thought through the past year and made a few unspoken promises to be the best possible version of myself. Somehow my dreams for a better me never seem to be achieved, so, lamenting my lack of stick-to-itiveness by scouring the Internet, I was presented with a timely solution to my failed resolutions. There’s another New Year and it focuses on things like optimism, happiness and family. All of which sound like nice, reasonable ways to approach the future, instead of the unattainable goals I’ve set in the past.
This type of new year’s outlook isn’t really a new idea at all. Rather, it’s been passed down for centuries in a country known as one of the world’s four ancient civilizations.
A country that’s been around for more than 3,000 years so they know a thing or two about longevity. It just so happens that the Chinese New Year (also known
as the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival in other Asian cultures) makes its arrival this month.
February 12 marks the beginning of the Year of the Ox. There’s tons of zodiac info and history available by surfing around, but to simplify, in Asian culture the ox denotes the hard work, positivity and honesty that will be manifested in all of us in the coming 12 months. We’re transitioning from a tumultuous and unpredictable 2020, the Year of the Rat, so it simply has to be better than that, right? With plagues, politics, upheaval and unrest, I’m more than open to some positivity!
Jia Deng Terwilliger is a student who moved to Boston from China in 2017. Her early childhood was spent in the countryside of southern China but later her family transitioned to an urban setting in the Sichuan Province. As Jia reminisced, she recalled that the celebrations in the country were some of her favorite. Because fireworks are central to welcoming the new year (they scare away evil spirits), the rural area was the perfect setting to start the year off with a bang.
While we Americans are still recovering from our November and December holidays, people in China, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Singapore and beyond roll up their sleeves for a 10-day clean-a-thon, ridding their homes of dirt, dust and negativity, and opening their living space to good fortune and prosperity. Though Jia married a Westerner, she continues to enthusiastically celebrate the Chinese New Year. Having married a Westerner, Jia and her husband, Evan, have combined the best of both cultures to put a diverse spin on welcoming the new year.
Frisco resident Richard Wong grew up in New Orleans, but he, too, has memorable stories about the traditions of the Chinese New Year. “On New Year’s Day, you gather with the family and you always wear something new. Usually something red, which symbolizes luck, or gold, which represents good fortune and wealth. The clothes don’t have to be overly expensive, but they have to be new.”
Both Jia and Richard agree that family and food are staples of the Spring Festival. Though relatives may be spread far and wide, everyone returns home to their brood to hang out and catch up. Most importantly, it’s a time to pay homage to those who came before you and pass down the family history. Tradition calls for the burning of incense, blessings for souls of ancestors and retelling of family stories, allowing the heritage to be passed down for generations to come. As everyone gathers around the table for the Reunion Dinner, photos are displayed and plates are prepared to pay respect to those who are no longer living.
Aimee Chanthadavong, who is of Chinese, Lao and Cambodian heritage explains, “While the person you are honoring may not be able to physically eat the food, it’s comforting to know that they can spiritually enjoy and bless the food we end up eating.” After sharing a meal, it’s time to let the games begin with favorites like Mah Jong, Chinese Poker and Chinese Long Cards (a rummy-like game) while kids and older adults anxiously anticipate receiving lucky red envelopes filled with money. Spirits are high as families drift out for leisurely walks in the park or to festivals where drums are booming, red and gold regalia is on full display, fireworks light up the sky and the popular Dragon Dance and Lion Dance are performed.
Overseas travel isn’t always easy so Asian-Americans, like Richard’s family, made a tradition of beginning New Year’s Day with phone calls to family members still in China, wishing them good luck, good fortune, health, and abundance of opportunity and a reminder to celebrate life to the fullest. Technology now allows red envelopes and New Year’s messages to be shared via WeChat, the most popular app in China.
Leading up to Spring Festival, Asians literally paint the town red. Wishes for luck, prosperity, health and fortune are reflected in the artistry of lanterns, signs and banners festooning buildings everywhere. Decorating at home takes place on New Year’s Eve and stays up for 16 days. Richard’s parents, who also live in the U.S., keep their outdoor decor minimal but indoors they keep the tradition alive with decorative pillows featuring the Chinese character Fú, representing fortune, that is turned upside down to allow luck to flow into the home. Also, Chinese couplets, or chūn lián, are featured on small red banners on the doorways inside. Like cultures all over the globe, special occasions call for pulling out all the culinary stops with favorite seasonal specialties, like dim sum and dumplings.
The Chinese New Year is upon us. It’s not too late to strengthen your resolve, embrace a few Eastern concepts and take a brand-new look at 2021. Gōngxǐ fācái! (May you be happy and prosperous!)
Sherry Etzel is a Dallas-based creative type who enjoys discovering new things, meeting new people and seeking out humor in everyday life.