February 2022 Carolyn Barber

Chinese New Year

Year of the Tiger

January 31st marks the start of the Chinese New Year for 2022. It is considered, by far, the most important and joyous holiday in mainland China, but also in neighboring countries surrounding it. The Chinese calendar is rather complex because it changes according to the lunar phases as well as the solar solstices and equinoxes. In the Chinese calendar each year, one of twelve zodiac animals are represented in a twelve-year cycle. It is believed that being born in the year of a certain animal; you will have many of its similar traits. For those born in the Year of the Tiger (2022!), they are considered courageous, energetic, competitive and risk-takers. Hungry for excitement, they are often rebellious, short-tempered, and outspoken, while preferring to give orders rather than take them. 

 

As a young adolescent, I never understood why my sisters and I had to do so much cleaning and preparations during this holiday, and why my mom was so adamant about us doing them properly. Like any other teenager, all I wanted to do was hang out with my friends, listen to Rick Springfield and Duran Duran while reading Teen Beat magazines. ‘Being Chinese’ was not a top priority for me, but as I have gotten older and had my own family, I finally understand the importance of my culture and sharing it with my son.

Whenever my sister Faye comes to visit from California, we often reminisce about the old days and how we begrudgingly had to clean everything from top to bottom and within every nook and cranny! We stripped the beds, washed the curtains, even took down each crystal on the chandeliers so every piece sparkled like diamonds. We were instructed to gently wipe the dust off the leaves of all the houseplants my parents had set along the windows. However, that task was taken away from me after I accidentally poked the only lemon off the tree. My mother would often stay up late many nights after working long days just to make sure everything was perfect for the start of Chinese New Year. 

 

The beginning of the 16 day celebration, Chinese New Year’s Eve, is the day when families of all generations gather together for their feast called ‘nian ye fan,’ which means 'reunion dinner.’ This is considered the most important meal of the year because it welcomes blessings and prosperity for the upcoming year. Every year on the afternoon before our New Year’s Eve dinner, my mother would set out a special brown folding table and would lay out chicken, fish, noodles, fried dough pastries, rice wine, joss sticks and paper to offer sacrifices to our ancestors. We were then told to bow 3 times to show them respect and piety for they would then protect and guide us to prosper. We did what we were asked to do, then scurried off to play. The following day was exciting because we had no chores, (cleaning was not allowed that day because it is believed that you would wash away your wealth). Faye and I didn’t have to go to school, and we had new clothes to wear that day. We also had to wear red, whether it’s on your clothes, socks, or a barrette, because it represents prosperity and energy and wards off all things negative or evil. I accessorized with a red bag that had a blue stripe down the center. Even at a young age I loved my bags.

 

Extended family and friends would visit with gifts of oranges because it symbolized good luck and fortune. Almond Roca and Ferrero Rocher, the chocolate candies wrapped in gold paper, are also very popular as gold symbolizes prosperity and wealth which were wished upon our family, and we would wish the same for them.  As young children we were given decorative red envelopes filled with money to wish us a safe and peaceful year. Faye and I always felt like we hit the jackpot when we opened the red envelopes to find crisp twenty-dollar bills. The Chinese New Year comes to a climax on the 16th day with the Lantern Festival, which marks the first full moon of the new lunar year and honors ancestors while promoting peace, reconciliation, and forgiveness. As young children we would head down into Boston’s Chinatown decorated with lit lanterns that guided the way towards the festivities while covering our ears due to the loud firecrackers and watching the Dragon and Lion dances being performed which scared off evil spirits and brought good luck to us all. 

 

This Chinese New Year will be especially hard for me as it is the first one that I will celebrate without both of my parents. Even though they are not with me physically, I know they are here in spirit and are watching over me. There is so much more I can learn about my culture, but what I want most is to honor them the proper way…the way they deserve. 

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