Celebrating Chinese New Year: Sharing Traditions at SGMHS
Auspicious New Year posters, cascading firecrackers, little decorative horses and various assortments of ornaments each dangling from an endless knot, “a Buddhist symbol of longevity,” can be seen in preparation for the Chinese New Year that begins on January 31, 2014. This is the “Year of the Horse.”People born under that sign are said to be “hardworking, admirable and ambitious.” The Chinese Lunar Calendar names each of the 12 years after an animal. Legend has it that Buddha summoned all of the animals to come to see him before his death. Only 12 came to pay their respects. As a reward, Buddha named a year after each animal in the order that they arrived: the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. The Chinese believe the animal ruling the year in which a person is born has significant influence on personality saying, “This is the animal that hides in your heart.”
Students taking a Chinese Class at San Gabriel Mission High School fondly remember celebrating Chinese New Year in their homeland and shared the many traditions they grew up with. They told me that if you were born under the sign for the year, then you should wear red all during the year for good luck. So in the days before the New Year, families clean their homes “in order to sweep away any ill-fortune and to make way for good incoming luck.” They also buy new clothing and shoes which symbolize a new beginning for the New Year. Homes are decorated with decorative red scrolls with themes of “good fortune” or happiness.” It is also a tradition to visit family members on New Years. One of the students, Helen, said that they prepare snacks for their guests. Another student, April, said on New Year’s Eve at her house they play Mahjong or cards and stay up all night counting down until the New Year arrives. Another student, Emma, said her family makes dumplings and eats them around midnight to welcome in the New Year. Some families even put coins in the dumplings and the lucky person to find the coin will be given money to start off the New Year.
However, one tradition that seems to be shared by all is the handing out of red decorated envelopes known as “hongbao” in Mandarin, “laisee” in Cantonese, and “angpow” in Hokkien. On the morning of New Year’s Day, married people begin the distribution of the envelopes filled with crisp new money to children and single members of the family, and in some cultures, it is extended to friends and neighbors. The amount of money contained in the envelope usually ends with an even number as according to Chinese custom, odd numbered money gifts are traditionally associated with funerals. The new money symbolizes good fortune. The recipient puts his or her hands together and shakes them while wishing you “Kung Hei Fat Choi” (if you are from Southern Chinese and Cantonese-speaking communities) roughly translated “Wishing you a happy and prosperous New Year,” or “Gonghe xinxi” (if you are from Mandarin speaking communities) meaning “Respectful congratulations and blessings for the New Year” in return as he or she accepts the envelope with both hands.
Westerners wanting to bring luck into their homes can follow tradition by remembering on the first day of Chinese New Year not to clean house, cut your hair or take a shower because you will wash away any good luck that might befall you. It promises to be the luckiest day of the year!
The students in Mrs. Sarah Zhou’s Chinese class at San Gabriel Mission High School plan to have dinner together to celebrate this Chinese New Year. They plan on staying up to watch the festivities that will be broadcast around the world from Beijing. And, even though celebrations of the Chinese New Year may vary, “the underlying message is one of peace and happiness for family members and friends.”
Happy New Year!