What a wonderful day to be smelling the air (hopefully fresher) and enjoying the weather (hopefully warmer) wherever you are in the world. And for many Asians around the globe, they are celebrating a new year!
Today, my friend Catherine of Live to Run, Run to Live, is going to share her childhood experiences of celebrating the lunar new year with her family. Read and enjoy! If you want to read more about Catherine and her running blog, click over to her site and check it out.
Chinese New Year
When Betty first asked me to write a small post on Chinese New Year, I thought it was appropriate. I immediately started to make a list of all the fun things I remembered about Chinese New Year’s Eve – fireworks, new clothes, yummy food, the gambling (don’t ask me why, but we always gambled on Chinese New Year’s Eve), lion dances, red decorations, and, last but not least, the red envelopes with cash!
Oh, the red envelopes! Just as American kids would count candy after a night of trick-or-treating, my sisters, cousin, and I would sit in a corner and count and compare our loot. And the color red was important. It was believed that the color red can ward off evil spirits.
I paused to think. Is that it? What am I missing?
I must have looked very puzzled because my three-year-old son asked me, “Mommy, why do you look mad?” I laughed. “I’m not mad, I’m just thinking about Chinese New Year and all the things I used to do as a kid.” Now it’s his turn to look puzzled, “Mommy, what is ‘chinee noo ear?’” His innocent questions made me remember the best and most important part of celebrating Chinese New Year – Family.
Chinese New Year is about being with family. Visiting with relatives. Lighting fireworks, eating yummy food, gambling WITH family. It is a time to be thankful for the past year and welcoming the new year with everyone you loved. And now, as a mother, I want to pass this very special holiday and tradition to my kids.
After reading Catherine’s story, I had the opportunity to ask her about how her family gambled with her New Year money and her memories of what it was like when she received a red envelope. Read on about the significance of red envelopes in Chinese culture and how they played a dice game during Chinese New Year.
“The red envelopes aren’t just used for Chinese New Year. It is often used as a gift on special occasions like weddings. I remember as a kid, we’d line up in front of the adults, then we’ wish them a happy new year by saying, 恭喜發財(T)/恭喜发财(S) (“Gong Xi Fa Cai”) then 紅包拿來(T)/红包拿来(S) (“Hong Bao Na Lai”)! The first phrase wishes them wealth and the second phrase means, “hand over the red envelope!” The two phrases, when said in Chinese, rhyme. (Note, I would say that second phrase to anyone you don’t know well, it is somewhat of a funny thing to say to close relatives or friends!)
Once we get our red envelopes, I was always told its good luck then to gamble with that money. So everyone in the family would gamble, with money. My family always played a game involving dice. Each person would throw 3 dice into a big porcelain bowl. The louder the noise the dice makes when hitting the bowl the better! The winner is determined by the highest numbered die. But a pair beats a single high number and three of a kind is the best.
Honestly, it’s been a long time since I have really celebrated Chinese New Year. The memories are faded. And now that I have kids, I want them to know their culture and hopefully create new memories that they can carry with them to their children.”
A big thanks to Catherine for sharing a piece of her family history with all of us today. I learned a lot about Chinese culture from her story, and I hope you did too.
If you’re interested in learning more about Chinese New Year, check out your local Barnes and Noble Bookstore. They might have something that you’ll want to read to your children.
TUTORIAL: How to Make Chinese New Year Red Envelopes (tutorial w/ free template)
From my hometown to yours,