For more than 3,000 years, Chinese New Year (referred to as Lunar New Year as well) is exactly what it sounds like—the beginning of a new year in the Chinese calendar. The historic Chinese calendar is a lunisolar calendar, meaning dates are determined by both the moon (lunar) and the sun (solar). The new year starts on the new moon nearest the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, sometime between January 21 and February 20. This year, Chinese New Year falls on February 10.
My favorite childhood memories consist of celebrating with my family. The weeks leading up to the new year, we always followed the same traditions, like cleaning our house, getting our hair cut, and draping our house in red. Even after moving out, I practiced these traditions in my apartments, which means I have spent all of January 2024 prepping for the good luck and fortune this new year will bring to me.
Another tradition that our family practices is the exchanging of red envelopes (lai see in Cantonese), usually filled with money. Lai see exchanges are usually ruled by hierarchy, so married people, the elderly and older relatives usually give lai sees while unmarried people and younger relatives receive the envelopes. As an unmarried, young woman, I continue another year of receiving lai sees.
The night before the first day of the new year, a large dinner is hosted with mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and all other family members you can think of. The house is filled with laughter, chatter and too much food that Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners look like regular meals. And just like those holidays, we eat the entire day.
Chinese New Year is my favorite holiday of the entire year, and not because of the lai sees. Growing up in a rural farm town, where my family definitely stood out, I always found myself slipping from my culture and wanting to be more like my non-Chinese peers. It wasn’t that I was ashamed, more that I was tired of always being “different” than my friends. But every year when Chinese New Year would come around, it would remind me that my Chinese heritage makes me who I am – that I’m lucky to be Chinese, to have traditions, and a wonderful culture and foods. As I’ve grown up, I’ve learned to embrace my Chinese culture every day. And although Christmas is fun, nothing brings me more happiness than being in a room of Chinese culture and food, wearing something red, Cantonese conversations, and my entire family.
Happy Chinese New Year, everyone!