“Lunar New Year is also called Spring Festival in China, and usually it’s the seven- to 15-day period starting Lunar New Year. Usually adults are off work for at least a week starting with New Year’s Eve, and for kids it always overlaps with their school winter break. (In China, winter break lasts about a month.)
“We get together with family members on New Year’s Eve just like a reunion with family on Christmas in the United States. We usually start the celebration on New Year’s Eve with a big dinner, at the same time watching the National Spring Festival Gala shown on CCTV (China Central Television). This gala show lasts about four or five hours, with the last part being the countdown to midnight and the start of the new year.
“Dinner can include any kind of dish the family likes, and usually would include jiao zi (dumplings), a traditional dim sum we eat on New Year’s Eve.
“Kids usually get hong bao from any adult relatives or parents’ friends they meet during the Spring Festival period. Hong bao are little red money bags containing usually ￥50-200 a bag, depending on how generous the adults are. This money is called ya sui money. Ya means to suppress; sui means a year. However, this sui is pronounced the same as another Chinese character that means evil spirit. So, this ya sui money is meant to suppress the evil spirit from bothering the kids during the coming year.
“It’s been a tradition for a long, long time in China. In my family, we received money every new year until we graduated from college and found a job! They thought when you started to make money as an adult, you didn’t need this ya sui money anymore.
“After the New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day celebrations, the rest of the days we usually go visit family members. On Monday, we might get together at my oldest aunt/uncle’s place, Tuesday at another relative’s place. There are several days in a row of social gatherings.
“I grew up in southern China, and people there like to play ma jiang. It’s similar to four-player poker games, but instead of cards, you use little tile cubes. My family is a big fan of it, and you can see them playing at any family gathering. Meanwhile, the kids just run around, playing their own games and celebrating with small fireworks that they can either hold in their hands with stick handles or place on the ground.
“I came to the U.S. in 2006 and haven’t had a chance to celebrate New Year’s in China again. When I was in grad school in Iowa, we Chinese students would gather on New Year’s Eve to eat dinner and watch the gala online. But here in Austin, there isn’t a big Chinatown that would hold celebration events like they do in California or New York. So, my husband, kids and I just stay home to have our little celebration and video-chat with relatives in China.”
Yang Liu is a tax accountant for Hormel Foods in Austin, Minnesota.