When Sherry Liu was a little girl, she heard stories about how the Kitchen God delivered a report on each family to the Jade Emperor in heaven. "To get a good report, people had sweets in the kitchen in the hopes that the Kitchen God will have a sweet mouth and say good things about the family," says Liu, a Bejing native and Chinese language instructor who admits that such old Chinese customs are making way for new traditions for today’sfamilies.
The Chinese new year celebration, which began more than 4,000 years ago, is based more on tradition than religion, making cross-cultural participation easier. "I encourage people to understand the celebration, that this is not a religious holiday. This is just people celebrating the start of the new year and of spring. They want to have a good harvest year," says Liu.
While the American new year is celebrated with an eve of festivities and a day off from work, Liu says Chinese new year celebrations last as long as 15 days and focus on family togetherness. "It’s much bigger. It’s something like Christmas. Families get together. No matter how far they are or poor they are, families try to get home."
As 2009 ushers in the Year of the Ox on Jan. 26, all families can explore this cultural celebration by spending time together, tasting new food and wishing friends luck in the coming year.
Whether it’s a celebration with a Chinese family in your neighborhood, the recognition of an adopted child’s heritage or good wishes for a colleague from China, here are some ways to celebrate the Chinese new year and honor the cultural impact of our Chinese neighbors.
Getting together with family is still at the heart of the Chinese new year celebration. However, today even more miles may stand in the way. If you want to send wishes for the new year to friends or family across the miles, send a greeting card or check out these e-greetings at www.123greetings.com/events/chinese_new_year.
"We always had dumplings," says Liu, who lists these tasty meat-stuffed treats as a favorite traditional food during the Chinese new year. Many foods eaten during the celebration have symbolic meaning, like whole fish for togetherness and chicken for prosperity. Check out a recipe for Chinese salad, Crab Rangoon and Kung Pao Chicken at 101chinesenewyear.com/recipes.html
In the Chinese culture, blooming plants symbolize rebirth and new growth. Traditional plants and flowers used to decorate during the new year include pussy willow, peony, water lilies and plum blossoms, which symbolize perseverance and reliability, and bamboo, which is known for its compatibility. If a bloom opens on New Year’s Day, the home will have prosperity in the new year.
Fireworks were originally set off to chase the evil out of the house before the new year. Celebrate the Chinese New Year with some virtual fireworks at maylin.net/Fireworks.html.
Children and unmarried young adults receive red envelopes filled with pocket money called "lai see" from elders during the first several days of the Chinese new year.
Make your own lai see envelopes and find other crafts at crafts.kaboose.com.
4 percent of the U.S. population is Asian according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Sharon Miller Cindrich is a freelance writer and mom specializing in technology.
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