It is Chinese New Year and I want to wish all you Asian friends a very Happy New Year in this 4713th year of the Monkey. You see the Chinese calendar is based upon a twelve-year cycle and there is one animal representing each year. Then there are also sixty-year cycles. I guess that this year for me will begin a new sixty-year cycle since I have lived sixty years already! Lucky me!
I love to celebrate Chinese New Year. I remember as a bride, long before Google Search existed, information about Chinese New Year was hard to find. You see China was a closed nation and most information that I could learn was from my in-law family who lived in the British controlled Hong Kong. Food to prepare for Chinese cooking was hard to find as well, not like today. I did my best to make Chinese New Year a festive time but honestly, it was probably a miserable failure most of the time. Still, though I love to celebrate the holiday even now. Because my children are half-Chinese and my adopted son is Chinese I feel a closeness to the Chinese culture. Here is how I celebrate Chinese New Year!
Prior to the holiday, which this year is February 8th, today, I must clean my house. It is a great time to do that spring cleaning anyway! My former in-laws said that it was important to have a clean home with fresh paint and looking its best. I likened this to how my family prepared for Christmas. We always wanted our home to look nice through the holidays and a clean home is always more welcoming.
Also a week before the holiday I try to remember to send Chinese New Year greeting cards and decorate my home with red decorations. Some of the decorations are made from paper and hang on the wall while others are more elaborate. One year I left up a white Christmas tree and hung Chinese decorations on the tree! That was kind of fun. It is always a treat to receive a Chinese New Year greeting card from someone who thought enough to send one.
Fresh flowers are also a part of the Chinese New Year. I never got to attend a New Year Flower Market but my former Mother-in-law would tell how beautiful the market was in Hong Kong. Having fresh flowers was important to make the home smell nice and also flowers are used as decorations. I have since learned from books and movies that the branches of a budding tree were used to remind us that spring brings new life. I think it is like our Easter season where we love to see fresh flowers on the table.
Also everyone in my former in-law’s family was given a new pair of pajamas, new shoes, new clothes, new toothbrush and so forth. The purpose was obvious so that you would start the New Year with new everything. I thought this was similar to how my family always had new pajamas at Christmas. I still try to observe this tradition by giving new pajamas to my son for Chinese New Year.
One of the most enjoyable traditions that my former in-laws did was to place a sweet piece of candy into each child’s mouth as they woke up on the morning of Chinese New Year. The reason was so that they would speak sweet things all year-long, in other words the children would all get along with each other all year. I still do this for my son just as I did for his sisters when they were small. Granted, it is a small tradition but a fun one I think!
Of course children really love Chinese New Year in countries where it is celebrated because they get time off from school and what child doesn’t love that! But also there is a tradition of giving children red packets or envelopes filled with money. We called this money Lycee. The tradition is that every married couple gives money to the unmarried whether a child or an adult. Children are of course excited to go and visit friends and relatives to receive such a special packet. I always thought this reminded me of how American children go trick-or-treating for candy at Halloween. I have only a few Chinese friends so I don’t give many packets each year; however I do give to my son and granddaughter as well as some Asian friend’s children. I think it is a nice way to let the children know that I value them and appreciate them as friends, a way of showing God’s love to them. My son loves to receive the red packets from his sisters and friends. He puts the money into his savings account.
As in all celebrations food is important in celebrating Chinese New Year. I vary what we do from year to year since there is only the two of us. When my Mother was alive she would join us for a traditional Chinese New Year’s Eve meal, soup, noodles and shrimp. It is traditional for all the family members to return home for the special family meal on Chinese New Year’s Eve. However much of my life seemed to always have been far away from family and so I either cook for the two of us or we go to a local Chinese restaurant for a good meal.
There have been times when I also prepared a red dish to serve candied fruit or candy to anyone who came to my home during the week-long holiday. I don’t have many visitors any more so I don’t really prepare as I once did. Maybe this year I will resume the treats. My son’s little friends will enjoy the candy I have no doubt!
When I was married we used to host a Chinese banquet for around twelve people each year on Chinese New Year’s Eve. We would invite friends and co-workers to celebrate with us. It was a lot of work and not uncommon for me to prepare the food for three days and then stand for three hours and cook one dish at a time. It is traditional to serve a Chinese banquet one dish at a time and not family style where all the dishes come to the table at once. I would begin with an appetizer dish and then soup followed by stir-fry vegetables, followed by shrimp, then noodles, more vegetables, roasted chicken, more vegetables, barbecued pork, another soup and more vegetables. I would plan one course per person attending so if there were twelve guests then I served twelve dishes plus the appetizer and dessert or about fourteen dishes. No one went away hungry!
It is always fun for me to celebrate any holiday but especially Chinese New Year. I use the holiday as a reminder that God loves the Asian people and so I pray for all my Asian friends. I also pray for all those who are brothers and sisters in Christ that I don’t know but look forward to meeting in heaven. To me that is the beauty of celebrations, the reminder that we are all a part of a larger family when we are Christians. It doesn’t matter what language we speak or what food we eat or where we live or what style of clothing we wear. We are all a part of God’s family and we will have a huge celebration when we are all finally united in Heaven. Just think about that day! We will see all of God’s children from every era, all different countries, all different languages, all different customs, oh and won’t the food be wonderful! I’m thankful we will have an eternity to get acquainted!
“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” Revelation 22:12-16, (New International Version).
To my Asian brothers and sisters around the world I say Happy New Year and may you be encouraged that Jesus is coming soon. To all the rest of you I say Happy Chinese New Year! And to all I want to wish you the joy of our salvation, the peace of Christ, and the blessings that only come from our loving Father. May you celebrate because God has blessed you greatly! Until next time…Katherine