Want to know what the Chinese New year celebration was like at the Kwan household?
Gung Hei Fat Choy!
– Happy Chinese New Year!
January 31, 2014, begins Chinese New Year – Year of the Horse! But the fun really starts on New Year’s Eve (Chu-xi) and lasts for the 14 days after.
I still remember when I was a kid there was a lot of things I had to do to get ready. First I had to get a new hair cut. Then buy a new pair of shoes. Then shop for new clothes. Everyone in the family came home for a special New Year’s Eve reunion diner (Wei-Nian Fan). Also, we all had to make sure to clean up really well beforehand because we were not allowed to take a bath during the Chinese New Year Day. If we did, that would wash ones’ luck or wealth away for the rest of the new year.
Some people would shop the flower market to get a good deal on the “Last Days Sale” since the market, and many other business, would close for the first three days of the New Year Celebration.
In my family we all gathered at home and played Mah-Jong late into the night.
At New Year’s Eve dinner we cooked a lot of food! We ate a variety of meat, chicken, vegetables, fish and more (nowadays we include a few traditional message fortune cookies for dessert!). But, we would not finish everything. We were taught to save some for the next year ahead.
After this reunion dinner the fun starts. People would gather outside the temple because everyone wanted to be the first one of the new year to be blessed. And we played a game – whomever was the first to set the incense stick into the container would get a big lucky red envelope from the temple. This was called “The First Incense Stick Race.” The most important thing was the winner would be very lucky in the coming year!
At midnight we would open the front door to receive the God of Wealth. And, I remember we would light off firecrackers to scare evil away. Everyone would greet each other by saying “Gung Hei Fat Choy” – or “Happy New Year!” And, if a child or youth who was not yet married did this, they would be given a red envelope that contained lucky money by the family members who were married.
On New Year Day we would have breakfast without meat since it is important to first worship the Spirit of the House without any animal sacrifices. Most people would then go to the temple to see the crowd and pray for the coming year’s luck. (But another great way to celebrate this year is to crack open a KC Fortune Cookie to learn about what your future truly holds…. Haha… We all know a fortune cookie isn’t physic 😉
All of us would wear our new clothes, shoes and jacket. Every family would prepare many different kinds of sweet candies in a tray for people visiting their home. We would always have New Year’s cakes (Nian Goo) at our home. Everywhere you would go people would be lighting off firecrackers. The drums for the lion dance could be heard ringing through the streets.
But on the third day of the new year we were told no one ever should visit a friend or family, as the third day is the fighting day. Anyone you visit on that day, it is said, you will quarrel with all year long.
On the fourth day most businesses reopened to welcome the God of Wealth. There would be a lion dance parade in the streets. They would dance to the sounds of drums, cymbals and firecrackers. Store owners would invite the lion dance team inside their shop because their dance wishes prosperity onto the establishment and brings in wealth and treasure all year long. The store owner would hang an oversized red envelope somewhere and the “lion” would have to retrieve it as part of the dance.
The seventh day of the new year is the birthday of everyone. The entire population would begin a new year of their life together. This is a very different idea than what is practiced in America. On this day everyone can go out and spend their red envelope money. They usually purchase something they’ve been wishing for all year. My family went out for picnics on the countryside and came back for a big dinner. This day also marks the halfway point of the new year celebration.
The New Year celebration is not done until the 15th day when the Lantern Lighting Festival happens (Yaan-Xiao). People would hang candle lanterns everywhere! In the temple, town center, houses – anywhere they could. The most popular lantern is of the animal symbol for the celebrated new year. This is the Year of the Dragon, so expect to see that symbol everywhere!
Besides the lantern display, people would play a traditional riddle game of questions related to the lantern display, news or popular people in town. When the game begins the person who figured out the answer first can win a prize.
KC Fortune Cookie Factory came up with our own Chinese New Year Game. Print out the rules and game board below.