With Chinese New Year festivities in full swing, this time of the year is a big deal for those who celebrate the holiday. Chinese New Year is a week chock-full of family get-togethers, traditional Chinese food and lots of red envelopes, according to junior global business management and finance major, Alex Liu.
Liu is from Nanjing, a city in eastern China. “I haven’t been back for the past five or six years since I came here, and I usually get homesick the most during Chinese New Year, just because all the family is back home,” he said.
With a fond smile, Liu recalls his typical New Year spent at home. “New Year lasts a week, and every night is a meal with a different family,” he said. “The older relatives would give out the red envelope to the kids to say ‘Happy New Year,’ and we would go out after dinner to play fireworks.” He explains that the red envelope, called hongbao in Mandarin, is given to kids, marking the end of the previous year and usually containing money that symbolizes all the blessings and wishes to come in the next year.
James Wicks, professor of literature and film studies at PLNU, says, “Chinese New Year is a time where you want to be home.” Wicks lived in Taiwan for the majority of his childhood years. “Everyone is trying to get home…It’s like Thanksgiving in L.A.,” he said.
Harry Han, a junior physics major, remembers driving 6-7 hours from his hometown of Nanjing to spend the New Year at his grandparents’ house. “I remember when I was a kid, we’d play with fireworks and shoot them at each other,” he said.
Han says that despite the recent firework ban in China, the beautiful displays are still a big part of the celebration. Their significance, he explains, has to do with old Chinese folklore. “The monster, Nian, only comes out once a year,” he said. “That’s why they pop fireworks and wear red, to scare the monster away.”
According to Liu, the color has even more significance. “One of the old traditions for people in China is that you wear red a lot when it’s your year,” he said. Liu is referring to the Chinese zodiac, a 12-year cycle, with each year within the cycle relating to a different animal sign. Depending on your birth year, the Chinese zodiac determines which year will be full of surprises and possible luck.
As for the family dinners, Liu said that there is a wide range of traditional foods and dishes symbolizing different things. According to him, they eat a lot of fish, as it sounds similar to the word for leftover, as in financial leftovers. They also eat dumplings, symbolizing family harmony and unity, and noodles, symbolizing longevity. Every year, at a lantern festival marking the end of Chinese New Year, Liu recalls eating a round, sticky mochi he called tang yuan, which symbolizes family togetherness and unity.