I love that every family creates their own unique Chinese New Year celebration by personalizing it to their tastes and interests. I’ve been a mom for 7 years and it has taken that long to settle into the Chinese New Year experience I want my daughters to learn from and hopefully look forward to every year. Here are our 4 family traditions to celebrate Chinese New Year.
1. Prepare for Chinese New Year together. Here is a 4 Week Chinese American Planning Guide to get you started. Depending on your kid’s ages they will be able to help you a lot or a little, or maybe not at all if you have babies.
2. Make and eat special Chinese New Year foods. Growing up, there were foods I looked forward to eating because they were only made during Chinese New Year. I want to cook my family a Chinese New Year meal with all of the symbolic foods on New Year’s Day. Even though growing up I would help my mom, grandmother, aunts cook, it was a totally different ball game when you have to cook it yourself. Thankfully, with the help of my mom, cookbooks, and 7 years of practice, the dinner is pretty good now.
For Chinese New Year, my paternal grandmother made “tai”, a fried dumpling with potato mixed into the skin to make it extra crispy. When I was younger, my cousins and I would impatiently wait for the “tai” to come out from frying in the hot oil and cool off enough to eat. As I got older, my grandmother taught us how to stuff and wrap the dumpling with the twisted closure on top.
After she passed away, my mom continues her tradition for my dad’s family and makes the filling and potato dough. My sisters, aunts, and cousins gather together to stuff and wrap the dumplings. This time together is very special because we talk and catch up with each other and learn to make these traditional foods.
My brother is always in charge of frying the “tai”. He is single if anyone is looking for a “foodie” who loves romantic comedies.
My maternal grandmother makes “fat goh” (发粿), or prosperity (发) cake. Hers are the best and she gets a perfect “flower” on the top every time because she monitors the amount of steam and cook time diligently. Even with much practice, I still have not been able to get my fat gohs to flower as pretty as hers.
3. Get together with family and friends. Since I was born, we always got together with my dads family and my mom’s family to celebrate Chinese New Year. I married a Chinese man and now a third celebration has been added to the calendar. I treat Chinese New Year as a season and not a single day holiday to be able to see all of our families. Coordinating schedules can challenging, but well worth the time spent together. It doesn’t matter if the celebration is a single day with family or multiple times with friends, the important part is the togetherness.
4. Attend a Chinese New Year Family Event hosted by a local organization. I want my daughters to be immersed in Chinese culture during Chinese New Year because there is so much to learn and everything is well-spirited. Even though we don’t live in China, they get to see lots of people at these events and how big of a deal Chinese New Year is to Chinese people. My favorite is the event at the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA). We have attended the last few years and every year gets better and better.
One of my daughters favorite activity at the MOCA Lunar New Year Family Event is the Chinese calligraphy. They got to see the artist draw a character of their choice, they chose monkey because it was this year’s zodiac, and then the artist places a sheet of paper on top, hands them the brush and they got to trace. My daughters got exposure to history and the art of calligraphy
There were several tables with crafts to celebrate the new year.
Some crafts the girls got to take home but some they made, like the wishful fish scale, to be a part of a larger project. The whole fish (complete with head and tail) is symbolic because it represents wholeness and family togetherness. I really liked the representation that each scale helped to complete it.
The girls loved the performances. They were mesmerized by the beautiful costumes and synchronized dancing. It was amazing how the red silk dancers could perform in such a small space. The family festival also had traditional lion dancing, longevity noodle pulling demonstration, Chinese New Year legends story telling, and zodiac face painting. Even though it’s a busy day, I am so grateful for this event because when I’m sitting with my daughters and walking to each activity, we are talking about the different things that are happening and they are learning about Chinese New Year.
What are your Chinese New Year family traditions?
The Dumpling Mama xo
p.s. photos from Chinese New Year 2016