(It’s like you can’t even tell which one is me, right?)
Happy Chinese New Year – or as it’s known across Asia, the Lunar New Year, or as it’s known in China, the Spring Festival!
This year is the Year of the Monkey. Monkeys have a pretty cool place in Chinese culture–one of the most beloved folklore characters is Sun Wukong, also known as The Monkey King, from the classic novel Journey to the West–but the Monkey also has special significance for my family this year because that’s my grandfather’s sign.
One of the first articles I ever wrote for Her Campus was this piece on celebrating Chinese New Year in college, away from home. It was my first Spring Festival away from my family, and I admit, it made me pretty homesick. My relationship to our Chinese heritage is actually pretty complex. My family is somewhat Americanized (which is why I’m not a native speaker in Mandarin). We’re also somewhat removed from China (both my parents and grandparents grew up in Myanmar, so they’re Burmese-Chinese), which means our cultural traditions are a little different. Chinese New Year is important to my mother’s family, though, so it was really important to me to observe the holiday, even in college. The Her Campus article is a pretty good basic primer for how to throw Lunar New Year celebrations in college. As for my own personal celebrations:
My NorCal Chinese New Year observances are influenced both by our family traditions and what I learned about the holiday from high school Chinese classes. Our ancestors were from Fuijian Province–we’re Fucanese–so our celebrations are influenced by regional southern traditions (China, contrary to Western perception, is not one homogenous country, but has many rich subcultures). I spent the weekend cleaning up the apartment–washing bedsheets, taking out the piles of trash that had been slowly accumulating, tidying up my room. I made sure to sweep out the door–symbolically representing a “sweeping away” of bad luck.
Food, of course, is a huge part of the New Year. My housemates were actually planning on making hot pot, but that was a bust when we couldn’t get sliced meat anywhere in this non-70% Asian town. I had oranges (representing wealth), noodles (long noodles for long life), and fish sticks (excess fish for excess prosperity), all traditional New Year foods, at the ready, but then a good friend of mine invited me to a vegetarian Chinese New Year party at her West Village apartment. It was pretty impressive–she cooked vegan potstickers, noodles, fried rice, bok choy for a ton of people. She also had Chinese sodas, milk candy, rice balls, and–egg tarts, which I love but had never seen frozen before! I ended up calling off my month long pescatarian diet a few days early. Heh.
Another plus of the Chinese New Year gathering was that I got an excuse to wear my pink qipao/cheongsam. I was incredibly overdressed but I felt like Maggie Cheung, so there’s that. Of course, today I had to wear new clothes too, so I donned my new blouse from Papaya that I’d been saving for the New Year (with a very pretty print that does look a little Chinese!) and my red leather jacket!
I didn’t get to decorate my apartment or set off firecrackers, but I did Skype my parents and call home, because Chinese New Year really is all about family. (And red envelopes. I gave one to the fantastic friend who hosted the party, and I can reliably expect the home front to save some for me–hong bao are very important, even if the children/unmarried women in question are away at college.)
One last thing. My mother and grandmother have a family tradition (I believe this is from our Fucanese roots, as I don’t know anyone else who does this) of setting up plates of different kinds of fruits as stand-ins for the gods, Buddhas, whoever is listening, and staying up till midnight to pray for the New Year. I already had my New Year oranges, and I also bought a Fuji apple and lemon from the Davis Farmer’s Market on Saturday for this exact purpose. I’m not religious, but I’ve always rather liked praying with my family and friends who are. So at the beginning of the Lunar New Year, I sent prayers and well-wishes for all my family and friends, along with a few wishes for me.
You can’t ever replace holidays with your family, but your family isn’t really ever away from you, are they?