New Year’s Eve is the biggest celebration in the Chinese culture. Every household decorates with lanterns and ribbons, as shops large and small are full of couplets to welcome the New Year. Houses are cleaned, new clothes are purchased and everyone works to prepare the New Year feast. While the whole celebration takes place over 16 days – it is New Year’s Eve – ushering out the Year of the Rat in preparation for the Year of the Ox that is the culmination of all the preparations.
Family is core to the New Year celebration and while we may not be able to get together this year – we will certainly honor all the traditions.
Every year, New Year’s Eve is the busiest day in our family. In the afternoon, family members, young and old come together to prepare for the feast together. All the family members are united, the adults are busy cooking and the children are busy playing. The ninety-year-old grandmother looks at her children and grandchildren with a happy smile and her heart filled with love.
The New Year’s Eve feast starts! The table is filled with all kinds of delicacies including tangy pork ribs, glistening mitten crabs, stirred shrimp and yanduxian soup flavored with fresh bamboo shoots. Everyone can’t wait to dig in! Cold dishes, hot pots and dim sum are among the dozens of dishes that create a memorable Chinese New Year dinner. Fish dishes are always an important part of the meal as fish symbolizes the promise of a bountiful new year.
We kick off the feast by raising our glasses to wish grandma a fortune as immense as the East China Sea and longevity as long as the existence of the Southern Mountain. Then we wish the children good health and academic success. The blessings from relative to relative echo in the dining room, bringing warmth, comfort, and happiness to our hearts
For children, the happiest part of New Year’s Eve has to be collecting New Year gifts in red envelopes. Red symbolizes happiness and good fortune. Adults distribute red envelopes to the children as a gesture to bless them with good luck and success. The amount of money in the red envelope is not important, what is important is the intent of the blessing.
After the conclusion of the feast, everyone gathers to watch the Chinese New Year’s Gala Show broadcast throughout China and around the world. The show started on Chinese New Year’s Eve of 1983, when hundreds of millions of Chinese audiences who had just ushered in the reform and development were sitting around the TV, watching a collection of songs, dances, comedic plays and acrobats perform in an elaborate showcase of culture, history and skill.
Many people in the Chinese culture, like my husband and I are followers of Buddhism. So, every New Year’s Eve we go to the temple to pray for fortune. Although the weather on New Year’s Eve is often cold and windy, the temple is crowded with the warmth of community. Everyone holds an incense in their hands as a representation of peace. The congregation gathers to pray to various Buddhas and Gods while waiting for the New Year bell to ring. At midnight, as the sacred and sonorous bell rings through the night, marking the first note of the new day and the new year. The melodious bell peal like spring thunder piercing space and time, dispersing across rivers north and south, resounding across the sky. It heralds another auspicious beginning, it brings a cheering smile to everyone’s faces, and it represents a dawn promised with dreams and hope! All the worshippers hang their red wishing bands on the trees, wishing each other a Happy Ox Year. The Ox represents strength, determination and ambition.
At this time, the streets and alleys are full of crackling firecrackers and colorful fireworks illuminating the sky！
When we get back from the temple grandma brings out her handmade dumplings.
The celebration of the new year represents home and Chinese families are inspired by this sense of family and hope. Every year, sons and daughters return home to carry on the tradition that has been celebrated for over 3000 years.
While this New Year, much like last year – will not be celebrated with families gathering all together – the spirit and significance of the day will continue to hold so much meaning for everyone as we look forward to celebrate once again in person.