Lunar New Year is the best time of year. Why? We get red envelopes 🧧 with money! Well, until I get married that is...then I'll officially be a Chinese "auntie" giving out red envelopes. Until then, I am not yet an "auntie". I refuse to admit to it 🙈!
The days leading up to Lunar New Year and the days after the start of the new year are filled with traditions and activities (not to mention, FOOD!). Here's a little breakdown of what my family does and the meanings behind these traditions.
3 days before New Year's Day
This is the day when we clean EVERYTHING. The house, any remaining laundry, dishes, anything! As kids, my mom would buy pomelo leaves for us to shower with. This is meant to clean the year of anything dirty and bad to prepare for a brand new year.
We'll also make sure the Lunar New Year candy box is filled and out on the dining table. Each item in the box has its own meaning. There will always be some sort of seeds (wintermelon, pumpkin, or other squash), candied lotus root and ginger, chocolate coins or Ferrero Roches, a red envelope, and a mandarin orange.
2 days before New Year's Day
In Hong Kong, a lot of people will go to night markets or flower markets to buy flowers and last minute decorations for the new year. There are numerous flower stands with beautiful, vibrant flowers. There are also a lot of stalls with cute stuffed animals for purchase. I remember going with my dad, uncle and cousin one year when I was around 10 years old and stayed up until 2AM. I felt like such an adult because it was the first time I was allowed to stay out so late!
New Years Eve
This is the night that we absolutely have spend together as a family. This is non-negotiable. The mention of not being home is not even allowed in my family. I can almost hear my mom yelling at me that ONE time I said I forgot and had made plans with friends.
On New Years Eve, I know to look forward to delicious glutinous rice balls in dessert soup for dessert. Whether it's red bean or sesame filled glutinous rice balls, I always leave room in my tummy for dessert. The dessert soup is either a super spicy ginger and brown sugar dessert soup or a sweet fermented rice one. Both equally delicious. Glutinous rice balls is another word play that takes on the meaning of being together as a family.
Because most of my family live in Hong Kong, including my last living grandparent (my poh poh), we call or Facetime with family there to say Gong Hay Fat Choy. We'll also give other blessings for a happy, healthy, and successful new year.
Before bed, my parents will give my sister and I red envelopes that we leave under our pillows while we sleep. We don't open them until the morning.
New Years Day
Today is when we say Happy New Year and give blessings to my parents and receive red envelopes. They like to keep asking us for blessings to test how many we know in Cantonese. We usually get stuck after 5. Traditionally, Chinese families will go to the paternal grandparents' home to give and receive blessings. I remember, as a kid, my paternal grandparents' apartment would be filled with all sorts of Lunar New Year decorations.
Mom will usually be in the kitchen starting in the afternoon preparing for an elaborate and meaning filled dinner. Each dish has a specific meaning and wishes for a happy, prosperous and healthy year ahead. Mushrooms with lettuce, abalone, fish, and different meats. Of course, finishing the night with more glutinous rice balls!
2nd day of the new year
Traditionally, today is the day Chinese families go to their maternal grandparents' homes to give and receive blessings. But when I lived in Hong Kong, my parents would go to my dad's side of the family for lunch and mom's side for dinner!
To me, Lunar New Year is a time dedicated to being with family. Often times it's the one time a year I'll speak to a lot of my relatives in Hong Kong. I always look forward to the food, the festivities, and quality time with my family. This year will be the first that I don't spend with my parents. It'll be my turn to uphold some of these traditions with my sister here at home. How do you celebrate Lunar New Year?