Chinese New Year
Today is Chinese New Year, the Year of the Dog. My father and mother, who are the hardest workers I have ever known, cared not for Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving or birthdays but we always closed up shop and spent Chinese New Year together as a family. (Officially, there are 15 days of festivities.)
As a child, I've never understood the Chinese calendar but after a bit of searching I found out: “The Chinese calendar has been in continuous use for centuries. This calendar measures intervals of time in seconds, minutes, months, years and centuries, entirely based on the astronomical observations of the movement of the Sun, Moon and stars. It is Year 4703 by the Chinese calendar.”
This holiday is celebrated internationally in Chinatowns all over the U.S. and the world. Anywhere there are Chinese and Chinese influences, there will be celebrations. Many ethnic groups such as the Mongolians, Koreans, the Miao (Chinese Hmong), the Vietnamese (see Tet), Tibetans, the Nepalese and the Bhutanese (see Losar) take part in the festivities and traditions.
More food is consumed during the New Year celebrations than any other time of the year. I remember pots and pans filled with dish after dish after dish. My parents used to make a vegetarian dish called 'jai' for our family, what I loved most about 'jai' was the black moss seaweed that looked like a fistful of hair! A good friend of my parents owned a Chinese restaurant we used to frequent once a week and this is where we headed to watch the Lion Dance and see them light firecrackers in the evenings. After my grandma passed away, my mom would go to her grave and light incense. This is also the time to remember our ancestors and their influence on our lives.
The best part of the day is the gathering of family members and gifts of red envelopes in Cantonese: 'lai see', from married couples to unmarried members of the family, usually children. Red envelopes traditionally consisted of amounts, which were considered multiples. Amounts like $2 (two pieces of $1), or $20 were acceptable. The gift was originally a token amount but I often got as much as $20 from my parents and their friends. My mom’s mom usually gave two, $1 dollar bills. After living in Seattle for 13 years without the foundation of our family close to me, (my parents), I can say I am a bit rusty at the traditions of this special holiday but when I think about how I’ve celebrated it before, my memories don’t fail me.
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