Happy New Year / 新年快乐!
To jumpstart the Year of the Rabbit, we’ve asked some of our staff members to share their thoughts and memories of their Lunar New Year experiences. Hope you enjoy!
First, a word from our Director, S. Alice Mong:
Hearty welcome to the Year of the Rabbit!
I have been eagerly anticipating today –first day of the Lunar New Year for quite some time now as Year of the Tiger has been full of too many ups and downs and I was happy to see its passing. We just got done with a hearty New Year office lunch of noodles (signifying longevity), nian gao (made of glutinous rice which sounds like another year higher or taller), dumplings and green vegetables. I passed out my traditional lai-see/hong bao (red packet with money) to the unmarried staff to wish them a happy new year. The food and hong bao all brought back wonderful memories of Chinese New year the way we use to celebrate in Taiwan before we immigrated to the US. I explained Chinese New Year to those not familiar with it as a combination of Easter (we deck out in our new cloth), Thanksgiving (big family feast—usually at Lunar New Year’s Eve), Christmas (instead of presents, we get the lai see (in Cantonese)/hong bao (in Mandarin) –with so many aunts and uncles, we kids generally start off the New Year in a very prosperous way) and of course, it’s also like Fourth of July with its firecracker and fireworks (less so these days due to fire regulations).
This past weekend, we kicked off the Lunar New Year celebration at MOCA with a talk on the Chinese almanac and nianhua (woodblock printing used to decorate for Chinese New Year) and a fantastic family day on Sunday with record attendance. We were also delighted to welcome our public officials Council members Margaret Chin and Peter Koo, Assemblywomen Grace Meng and Judge Doris Ling-Cohan to help us dot the eyes of the Lions to awaken them up to kick off the celebration.
It was great to see the wonders of Chinese New Year reflected in the eyes of the children as they take part in the noodle making demonstration, calligraphy and paper cutting work shop and solving the Chinese puzzles in the Bloomberg Gallery which features the exhibit on “Chinese Puzzle: Games for the hands and mind.” I felt like a kid again this weekend. For those who missed the MOCA family day celebration this past weekend, there is another Lunar New Year family day in store for you at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There will be lion dancing, Chinese fan dancers, tea ceremony at Astor court (that’s where I will be) from 11 am to 4 pm on Saturday, Feb. 5.
At MOCA, we will be showing Oxhide II, a Chinese movie which features prominently dumplings at 7 pm on Friday night, Feb. 4. On Saturday, Feb. 5, there is a walking tour (even though it is sold out, we are taking names for the waiting list) and there will be the Chinese New Year parade in Chinatown on Sunday, Feb. 6 from 11 am onward. Ken Smith and Joanna Lee are coming back on Feb. 12 to do another Chinese Almanac program which will feature more on predictions for the Year of the Rabbit.
Speaking of predictions, this is from Neil Somerville’s “Your Chinese Horoscope 2011”:
Politically, Rabbits years are times of diplomacy and negotiation. In this one, in view of some of the tensions and warring going on, many of the world’s leaders will be examining ways forward, exploring opinions and trying to reach consensus.
Overall, the Year of the Rabbit will be a full and interesting one. A lot will happen on the world stage and even though there will be dangers, tensions and tragic moments, there will also be reason for hope. It is a year for discussion, diplomacy and, importantly, personal growth.
Here is wishing you a happy and healthy Year of the Rabbit! So, let’s hop to it!
—S. Alice Mong, Director
What Chinese New Year Means to Me
As a first generation Chinese American who was fortunate to have grown up with two sets of grandparents and a great grandparent, Chinese New Year was always full of numerous family traditions and rituals. It was a holiday that I always looked forward to. There was a New Year’s Eve family dinner (“toon neen fan”) where we would have 6, 9, or 12 main courses. During this meal, my brothers and I were always reminded to finish everything in our bowls and to hold on tightly to our chopsticks since leaving food in our bowls or dropping our chopsticks would not bode well for the New Year. Sometime after midnight on New Year’s Day, my mother would perform a ritual to pay tribute to our ancestors with many different goodies (e.g., oranges, fat go, neen go). As much as we tried to stay up past midnight, we never really succeeded. Inevitably, we would be too sleepy, but we always made our mother promise to wake us up when she was ready to perform this ritual. There were many times when we could not make it out of bed, but on those rare occasions when we did, we got a chance to participate in the ritual and then have a small snack before heading back to bed. The next two weeks of this holiday would be full of activities – watching the dragon dances, visiting family and friends which involved eating more food and sweets than we could ever imagine, attending opening of the year dinners, and of course, collecting lucky money, which was always the best part.
Now that I am married and have kids, I reflect on these times and am forever grateful to have these wonderful childhood memories. Although we have simplified some of our family traditions since my great grandparent and grandparents are no longer with us, Chinese New Year continues to be a time to celebrate with family and friends. Hopefully, my kids and future generations will have similar wonderful memories of Chinese New Year! Gung Hey Fat Choy!
—Bonnie Chin Washburn, Director of Operations
People are garbed in red clothes, children carry money in red envelopes, even lanterns hung for the purpose of decoration are red in color. It is so because it is commonly believed that red symbolizes fire which according to legend can fend off bad luck.
—Frank Liu, Director of Technology
Growing up in a non-Asian family, my celebration of Lunar New Year was relegated to learning to say “Gong Hay Fat Choy” (恭喜發財) in elementary school and eating chocolate out of little red envelopes. But growing with my MOCA family over the past two years, I’ve enjoyed learning and adding new traditions into the mix. In my own tradition, I try clean on January 1st to begin the new year with a fresh start, so I’ve embraced the tradition of cleaning before the Lunar New Year starts and decorating with brightly colored lanterns. I love fresh flowers, so adorning my home with plum blossoms, kumquats and chrysanthemums has been a welcome way to bring in luck, prosperity and longevity. And while I don’t get to host a reunion dinner for my family, I now get to share a joyful meal of dumplings, noodles, fish and mandarin oranges with my colleagues and friends, which truly makes me feel lucky.
—Emily Chovanec, Visitor Services Manager
Courage and hope in full bloom,
Winter of sweet content
—Beatrice Chen, Director of Education and Programs
My Chinese New Year Memory
It was already dark; it was the night before New Years. I remember my grandmother murmuring that she’s late this year—in preparing for big first day of the year. My short hand was raised high above me. At the other end of is my, at the time, tall grandmother in her usual green sundress with a white lily pattern and a light pink blouse. We rushed through the Chinese New Year Flower Market to find her favorite flower vendor to get our cherry blossom tree for the center of the living room. It is a beloved tradition of my family’s and many families around China. When we got to the stand, the adults discussed business—the haggling began, while I stood next to the carnations and peonies. I pushed my nose deep into the flowers and took the deepest breath I could with my small lungs. The busy market disappeared as I closed my eyes, and I was transported to another world, the world of happy blooms and dancing flowers. I was five-years old and this was one of my earliest memories.
—Sophia Ma, Assistant to the Director
This year, my family and I went to a French restaurant for Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner. I wouldn’t say we go out of our way to flout tradition, but we have had brisket and latkes on Christmas, ceviche de pescado and lo mai fan alongside the turkey on Thanksgiving, and moules marinières on the Fourth of July. One tradition that we do always adhere to: celebrating the holidays surrounded by family and friends.
—Marissa Chen, Development Assistant
Lunar New Year in memory and in reality
I was born and raised in Taiwan until I left home in 2005. Since I entered adolescence, I had worked hard to pay little attention to traditional rituals and celebrations. As a proud coming-of-age, idealistic young adult, I had aspired to innovation and modern thinking. Festivals that have been past on for thousands of years and mainly practiced piously, if not blindly, by the older generations certainly did not excite me as much as Western cultures that were still largely new to me. Like many contemporary Taiwanese, the Lunar New Year for me had become but one other stodgy traditional festivals that I passively celebrated because of the obstinacy of my mother.
This has been the fifth year that I am away from home and unable to celebrate the Chinese New Year with my family. Be it home-sickness or maturity, I have noticed that a desire and appreciation for opportunities to practice traditions for major Chinese holidays* is growing on me. I have read about how overseas Chinese oftentimes are more insistent and active in sustaining traditions than those staying at home. Starting from my third year abroad, this seeming cliché observation has slowly become truism for me.
For the past two years, I have gotten together with friends, either at home or restaurant to reenact the experience of tuan yuan fan, literally the reunion meal, on the New Year’s Eve. Apparently, food is the most memorable but also convenient Chinese New Year tradition for all people of Chinese descent.
It is entertaining to see a group of expats joining efforts to excavate our memories of a traditional family meal for this special night. We all remember a fish dish, preferably a whole one, being mandatory for an auspicious New Year’s Eve dinner, but beyond that has been a contentious list of individual family traditions. Some people remember having dumplings, while others argue it is a Northern tradition. As I droop over the green vegetables and soy-sauce-brined pig hooves from my mother’s menu, no one else seems to be able to echo. At the end, we simply piece together a meal that is hearty and well-balanced. After all, we all agree that the end goal is to get together with people who you love and care for, a universal desire across cultures in the history of festivals.
Still, there are many other traditions that are no longer relevant for various reasons. We don’t purposefully wear brand new clothes and accessories on the day of New Year’s anymore since nowadays people acquire new clothing yearlong. Selling and using of fire crackers are banned in New York City, so we have no chance to hail over a dazzling variety of pyrotechnics. Red envelopes are rarely received or given since most of us are of the same age and hierarchy. The list goes on.
The content of tradition is ever-evolving and fluid because of changes in time and space. Though rituals don’t always sustain, some things are shared and will be forever passed on. Essentially, human experience is what makes any festival activities meaningful.
A heartfelt “Happy Lunar New Year” to all people at and away from home!
*The four major Chinese holidays are the Lunar New Year, the Lantern Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival, and the Mid-Autumn Festival.
—Ting-Chi Wang, Exhibitions Manager
We at the Museum of Chinese in America wish you all a wonderful and prosperous Year of the Rabbit!