Happy Chinese New Year: The Year of the Ox

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I’m surrounded by darkness; in front of me is an outline of an old orange tree. My cousin sits on the cold, cement stairs to the right of me and is preparing for what is about to happen. He is as excited as if he were watching Steph Curry playing basketball. From the window behind me, smells of my grandmother’s flavorful cooking spill out making my mouth water. A whistling sound goes off as the first firework shoots into the air,  and it suddenly blasts into a blossom of light illuminating the night sky red for a second. Watching this makes me feel warm and secure. The blast of red light engulfs the orange tree creating a long-lasting shadow. This is my favorite time of the year!

Chinese New Year is a holiday that celebrates the arrival of the new year. Although the rest of the world celebrates the arrival of the new year on the eve of December 31st, the Chinese New Year is celebrated according to the Lunar calendar. The Gregorian calendar is the universal calendar that people use to tell them what year they are in; it follows the sun, while the lunar calendar follows the moon. This year, Chinese New Year will be celebrated on February 12th. This holiday is primarily celebrated in China, but also in different parts of Asia, such as Vietnam and South Korea. There is a very famous origin story about this holiday involving the monster, Nian. A long time ago the monster was known to come to villages and hunt livestock and people. The way to defeat the monster is by displaying the color red and producing loud noises; therefore, fireworks and red decorations are traditions of Chinese New Year.

Not only are the color red and fireworks respected traditions, but also having a family dinner is a popular way for people to celebrate the Chinese New Year. A lot of traditional foods are served during the dinner, such as 年糕 (sweet glutinous rice cakes), dumplings, and 春卷 (spring rolls). The dinner is held with extended family members such as cousins, aunts, and uncles. Since meeting up with extended family members is such a big deal, Chinese New Year is one of the busiest travel days of the year. While family members eat dinner together, a special “live” television program is put on TV. The name of the program is 春节联欢晚会; it is a variety show, which is a series of different acts in numerous genres performed by various artists. The television program is especially beloved by older generations. The show has classical and modern dances and invites many famous singers to perform. Most acts are performed indoors, while others are too large to perform inside, so they are performed on an outdoor stage. Part of the spectacle of the outdoor performances includes overhead cameras providing a “birds-eye-view” of the performers below using their bodies and colorful costumes to form shapes of flowers or other objects. One of my favorite genres of the show is the comedy acts. Famous comedians such as 宋小宝(Song Xiao Bao) and 沈腾 (Shen Teng) are regulars at this annual show.  

Another beloved custom of the Chinese New Year is the gifting of red packets of money known as 红包 (Hong bao). Usually, it is the practice of elders giving money to the children. Elders include uncles, parents, and grandparents. The envelope signifies the wish of good luck, especially because of the color red, and also sets the tone of fortune for the next year. Although everyone gets all excited to receive money, the proper custom is not to count the money in front of elders, since that is seen as disrespectful. When I was younger, my parents would take the money that was given to me and put it in a bank account for later use. However, as I got older, I became more responsible handling money, so I was allowed to receive and spend the money that was given to me on this day. WeChat, a social media app from China, added a new dimension to the way money could be exchanged by enabling it to be exchanged online. A fun way people engage in this is by sending a big packet (Hong bao) in a group chat of friends, and whoever opens the packet first receives the largest portion of the money. 

Despite the fact that our family is scattered geographically across China, we meet up annually to celebrate Chinese New Year. Each year we go to my grandmother’s house which is in 江西 九江 (Jiangxi Jiujiang). I live in Beijing, therefore it is a 3-4 hour plane ride to go celebrate the arrival of the new year. When we arrive at my grandmother’s house, I am welcomed by cousins, aunts, and uncles. We rarely get to see each other, so Chinese New Year is a precious way for us to spend some family time together. Before and during dinner, my grandmother makes a lot of delicious dishes in order to feed all the people that have come to celebrate. Some of the food she makes includes chicken, fish, squid, and dumplings. My grandmother usually does the cooking and my grandfather helps her in the kitchen. I am very excited to sample my grandmother’s cooking because the dishes she prepares are always such a delicacy. During our feast, we all watch 春节联欢晚会 (the variety show). When less popular acts are performing, the kids go out into the backyard and light the beautiful fireworks. For all of the above reasons and the chance for families to come together, I look forward to this holiday every year. Happy New Year to all!