The Year of the Ram: Chinese New Year in My Family

By Jen Kustin

 

Goodbye to the Year of the Horse, hello to Year of the Ram.  What does that mean? That means it’s Chinese New Year (or Lunar New Year)! Gung Hay Fat Choy! As a Chinese American, Chinese New Year has been a special, memorable part of my life.  I am first-generation here (my parents were born in China), so it is important to me that I continue celebrating this holiday and pass the traditions on to my children. If I don’t keep the traditions alive, they die with me.  Sad, but true.  I want my son and daughter to embrace their heritage and carry on what they’ve experienced and what they’ve learned.  So what does Chinese New Year mean, you ask? How do people celebrate? Well, I am here to share what it means to me and what I do with my family in honor of the holiday.  I hope it sheds some light on a beautiful celebration that some may not really know about.  Note that these are my opinions and experiences and may differ from others who also celebrate.  To each their own!

 

So What is Chinese New Year?

It’s just what it sounds like—it’s the new year, but according to the Chinese lunar calendar.  The lunar calendar is based on the cycles of the moon.  There is no set amount of days in a lunar calendar, so the date of Chinese New Year changes year to year.  In 2014 it was on January 31st.  This year it’s on February 19th.  In 2016 it will be February 8th.   It’s a major holiday not only to the Chinese, but also to Koreans, Vietnamese, and many others who use the lunar calendar.  Some call it Chinese New Year, some say Lunar New Year.  I say Chinese New Year (I am Chinese, after all!).

 

Have you heard the phrase “Gung Hay Fat Choy”? People often greet each other with this during the New Year.  It does not literally translate to “Happy New Year!” but is an expression of wishing good luck and good fortune.  It is a common greeting and is basically synonymous with wishing a Happy New Year.  So go ahead and drop a “Gung Hay Fat Choy!” on someone!

 

Year of the Ram, Sheep or Goat – What say you?

Associated with the Chinese calendar is the Chinese zodiac, which is comprised of 12 animals.  The animals represent different personalities, traits, and characteristics that people born in that year embody.  Each year is connected to a different animal, which is a big part of Chinese New Year.  You will see images of the animal all over the place during New Year festivities.  Now, I have been celebrating Chinese New Year from birth and have always heard Year of the Ram, sometimes Year of the Sheep.  But out of nowhere this year, I start hearing all this debate over whether it is Year of the Ram or Year of the Goat. The Goat? What?! I have never once heard Goat in relation to Chinese New Year.  There have been professors and linguists stating that the character resembles a goat, but I refuse to go with goat. For over 3 decades I have seen, heard, known ram, so I will continue to roll with that.  If you disagree, just substitute in your mind whenever I use ram.   With that being said, Happy Year of the Ram!

 

Traditions to Prepare for the Chinese/Lunar New Year

To get ready for the new year, there are certain things that need to be done. You want to welcome the new year with clean, fresh open arms.  In order to do so, you need to clean your house, take a shower, and get a haircut before the new year arrives. It is considered bad luck to sweep or clean and shower on New Year’s Day because you are in essence sweeping away or washing away good luck. While we follow the traditions leading up to the new year, we don’t necessarily abide by the don’t shower, don’t clean on New Year’s Day.  It’s symbolic and open to interpretation.  Let’s be honest, we need a daily shower and there are bound to be spills and messes in a household with children under the age of 8.

Red is considered a lucky color and it is everywhere for Chinese New Year.  Many people decorate their homes with red lanterns, signs, and banners.  This is something I don’t really do.  Instead, we opt to wear a red article of clothing. Anything red will suffice, really.  My son went to school this morning in a red Nike shirt.  My daughter is wearing tank top with red on it.  My husband keeps insisting I wear a traditional red brocade dress AND put my hair up in buns Chun-Li style, but that is still up for debate.

 

New Year’s celebrations carry on for 15 days, but I think most families celebrate for a day or two.  My family has always done just one or two days.  We never fail to meet for a big dinner on New Year’s Eve and then sometimes get together again on New Year’s Day.  The 15-day span is evident with the various dates of public events held in honor of the holiday. I know of some that already occurred in mid-February, some happening this weekend, and some yet to come in March (even beyond the 15 days).

 

Upcoming happenings you can still check out:

Sac Asian Pacific Chamber of Commerce’s Lunar New Year Mixer

Fat’s Catering and Banquet Facility

1015 Front Street

Sacramento, CA 95814

Thursday, 2/19 (today!) from 5:30 – 7:30 pm

Free to members, $20 for non-members

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/lunar-new-year-mixer-tickets-15508559519

 

Southwest Airlines Chinese New Year Parade and Community

Street Fair

Saturday, 3/7, and Sunday, 3/8

San Francisco, CA

    • Parade: Saturday, 3/7, 5:15 pm – Free or $30 for bleacher seats; Start at Market and Second Street, Ends at Kearny and Jackson
    • Street Fair: Saturday, 3/7, 10 am -4:40 pm, and Sunday, 3/8,  9 am – 5 pm ; Grant Avenue from California to Broadway St.Sacramento, Washington, Jackson & Pacific between Stockton & Kearny

http://www.chineseparade.com

 

37th Annual Stockton Chinese New Year Celebration

Sunday, 3/1, from 10 am – 5 pm

Downtown Stockton, CA

http://www.stocktoncnyc.org

 

135th Bok Kai Festival

Saturday, 3/21, and Sunday, 3/22

Historic downtown Marysville

http://www.bokkaiparade.com/

 

 

The Food!

With Chinese New Year comes a lot of food.  As mentioned earlier, my family does a big meal on Chinese New Year’s Eve.  We enjoy a smorgasbord of food, mostly Chinese dishes, but a few non-traditional items usually make their way in (if you notice in the photo, we also had sliced bread, some salads, and a confetti cake—not at all Chinese). We had rice (of course!), BBQ pork, BBQ duck, sea bass, salmon, boiled chicken, mango pudding, almond jello, baos, candied fruits, and mandarin oranges (a Chinese New Year staple, as they symbolize luck and fortune).  It was a spectacular family feast and I feel so lucky to have that and for my children to experience it.  4 generations were present at one meal! Pretty darn amazing.

 

There are a few tried and true spots my family and I shop at for our Chinese New Year items.  If you want to know where to get the real deal goods, these are our go-to places:

 

  • Ranch 99 – 4220 Florin Road, Sacramento 95823
  • Asian Food Center – 1301 Broadway, Sacramento, 95818
  • ABC Bakery – 1309 Florin Road, Sacramento 95381

 

I recommend Ranch 99 and Asian Food Center for meat, fish, produce, red envelopes, and decor. ABC Bakery is the place to get baos and dim sum items such as dumplings.  I highly suggest you try their pineapple baos, bbq pork baos, cocktail baos, and egg custard tarts.  Delish!

CNY3

 

 

Another thing I would like to mention about Chinese New Year is the lai see, or lucky money, that is handed out.  Red envelopes with money inside are often given as gifts on special occasions such as birthdays, graduations, weddings, and most definitely at Chinese New Year.  Children, teens, and young adults get red envelopes as a gesture of good wishes, fortune, and luck.  It is impolite to open the envelopes in front of the person(s) who gave it to you.  You can see in the photo how happy and excited my son, daughter, niece, and nephew were to receive their lucky red envelopes.  They’re ready to buy something very practical with that money, like NFL or NBA trading cards or Sherriff Callie merchandise (if you are my son and daughter, those are what you are going for).

Chinese New Year

 

For me, Chinese New Year is about getting together with family. It is a celebration of new beginnings, but it is also about celebrating your family. It is special to me because it has to do with my culture, my heritage, and that is something I do not want my children to lose or forget.  My hope is that my son and daughter will hold onto these traditions and continue doing them with their families when they are grown.  As for the red dress and Chun-Li hair, we’ll see.  That’s not on the list of things to keep going for future generations just yet. Don’t hold your breath, Steve.

CNY4

Hope that provided some insight into Chinese New Year. It’s a holiday I hold near to my heart and will celebrate always. Happy Year of the Ram and Gung Hay Fat Choy!

 

How do you celebrate Chinese New Year? Do you have any Lunar New Year traditions you would like to share?

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2 Comments

  1. Kelvin Ho says

    Very nicely written article on CNY LNY Jennifer! Hopefully our children will retain some of the traditions we grew up with and pass them along to the future generations. Gung Hay Fat Choy!

  2. Jamee Villa says

    Really loved reading this and learning about this celebration. Gung Hay Fat Choy!
    Thank you!

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