Next to Christmas, and pretty much for the same reasons, Chinese New Year remains a favorite holiday of mine. My favorite things about holidays (even at a young age) include: eating tons of yummy food, trying out interesting new snacks, getting to see family, and… presents. Especially ones involving candy (there’s an obvious pattern here). More recently, as I’ve grown older, I’ve also really started loving the small rituals associated with certain holidays as well. There’s just something about traditions that you can count on year in and year out that feel warm, familiar and loving.
Our Chinese New Year always started off before the actual day itself. My mom always asked us to clean our rooms and help her clean the house, whether it was putting toys away, neatening our rooms by finally folding up piles of clothes or emptying out all the trash cans throughout the house. Doing this, she said, would make sure we started the year off with a clean slate and no lingering unresolved issues. We happily obliged, especially if it meant good luck for a full year—but also because we were just good Chinese kids who didn’t question Mom. We also always showered the night before and shampooed our hair, so as not to wash away any of the New Year goodness we would receive on the very first day of the next year.
On Chinese New Year Day, we always woke to find a treat under our pillows in total tooth fairy style: one fresh orange and a red envelope with cash! We always got more money on New Year’s than any allowance or report card day, even with straight As. It was always a treat to see the crisp new bills tucked into the red envelopes. For our family, it was important to start your year off with a little sweetness and luck so you slept with the orange under your pillow for a day or two before you consumed it. My sister and I even started saving our special money “prize” for an entire year, until we got the next red envelope (though I think this was our own superstition).
Chinese New Year Dinner was always (and remains as) one of my most favorite meals of the entire year. As a child, my mother’s father would attend a buddhist temple on New Year’s, and the monks always ate a special vegetarian mung bean noodle dish with 10 different ingredients representing different jewels and wealth, including lotus root, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, tofu and other treats—most of which are very symbolic. As a child, I always just thought it was this really delicious vegetarian treat we ate once a year, but now, watching my mom meticulously go through every ingredient to create this exact meal every year for us is extra special. We also would eat fish or a whole chicken as well as noodles for longevity. This dinner was one where everyone—young and old—sat around the table and chatted about everything and nothing, but especially the food.
Since getting married, I’ve decided to continue the tradition of sneaking a red envelope and an orange under my husband’s pillow for New Year’s. It’s a small tradition we want to continue for our family, and one that I’m excited to share with him. As a born and bred, Midwestern, “my family literally arrived at Plymouth Rock” kind of guy, these traditions of mine are all new to him and take on special meaning because we are choosing to honor these traditions as a new family. This year, I’m asking my mom if she’ll show me the ins and outs of her buddhist noodle dish. It probably won't be as good as hers, but I need to start somewhere!
Check out a variety of Gathered Gifts' updated red envelope designs here.
Do you have any special Chinese New Year traditions? Anyone else put oranges under their pillows? We'd love to hear more. Share your stories below!
Photos from the Yam Family albums