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From Red Envelopes to Family Feasts: A Teen’s Tale of Lunar New Year

From superstitions to to reflection: embracing the rich background and culture behind Chinese New Year celebrations
From Red Envelopes to Family Feasts: A Teens Tale of Lunar New Year

I walked down the stairs late Sunday morning, only to be greeted by a wave of familiarity. Tangerines sat perfectly stacked on top of one another on our finest china plates. Three money trees stood tall, their leaves illuminated by the beaming rays. 



Spring festival has begun


To others, Spring Festival, more commonly known as Chinese New Year, is a celebration centered around removing the bad and the old while welcoming the good and the new. It is traditionally time to worship ancestors, rid ourselves of evil spirits, and pray for a good harvest. 


But to me, it’s the best day of the year. 


The superstitions my mother taught me only added to the fun and anticipation of the holiday. 


Cut your hair to part with the bad luck from the previous year

Do not wash your hair the day of; you may wash away all of the bad luck

No black clothes, it is unlucky and the color of death

Welcome in the new year by cleaning the entire house and making room for all of the luck to come with the new year

No sweeping day of, it sweeps away the wealth of the new year

Must wear red to bring in the most luck


I partake in these quite religiously and feel “off” if they are not followed precisely. 


Not only is this festival celebrated through its unique superstitions, it is primarily characterized by the traditional foods cooked and consumed surrounded by a loving family. For me, this means my family becomes reunited again. My mom’s brother and sister lived just a 20-minute drive through typical suburbia away. But slowly they scattered across the country. We now span across the east to west coast but come together for this one day. 


Finally reunited, the preparation begins days in advance. My mom and aunt storm the kitchen wrapped up in their printed aprons, shouting Cantonese over the whirring fans and commotion of the family. 


糯米饭 (sticky rice) soaked in water for days, allowing the separation of the starch and grain to be cooked to perfection. 


年糕 (sweet rice cake) made the night before so the gelatin may reach its full potential overnight, just the right amount of sticky and chewy. 


蒸鱼 (steamed fish) a whole fish, the ultimate symbol of prosperity. Drenched in soy, scallion, and ginger, everyone must consume at least one bite.


伊面 (e-fu noodles) noodles must be consumed to promote the longevity of life 


春卷 (spring rolls) fried in hot oil to a golden brown crisp, resembling gold bars and promoting wealth


汤圆 (sweet rice balls) the circular shape promoting the idea of family togetherness and reunion, typically filled with sweet fillings such as black sesame and peanuts


整只鸡 (whole chicken) served whole, symbolizing unity and wholeness and signifies a good beginning and end to the year


The meaning of the holiday to me has changed over the years. I used to receive my red envelopes eager to spend it on the newest toy, but I now look forward to putting it towards my savings hoping to achieve financial independence. 


What used to be dread putting on my traditional clothing and getting in the car to spend hours in tight quarters with my younger cousins has now become tears of joy. Excitement I cannot contain waiting to see my cousin’s faces light up as they run to me in the airport with open arms. 


Chinese New Year has become an opportunity for me to observe my growth and how I have grown to appreciate the delicate intricacies that come with the holiday. Growing up in a predominantly white area with little celebration of culture, it wasn’t always easy to acknowledge who I truly am. My food was called “smelly,” and my prideful red clothing was “tacky,” but still, I am proud. I have grown to love silly superstitions and intricate foods. 


I still look forward to seeing the money trees stand tall and the oranges stacked gracefully on a plate. But now it is not necessarily a familiar sight, but rather a wave of nostalgia reminding me of the vivid details of my childhood.

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