Chinese New Year Here and Abroad
by Jeffery Cao on Friday, February 10th, 2017
A couple of weeks ago, millions of people on the other side of the Earth dressed up in flaming-red dragon and lion costumes to dance in the streets and celebrate what we over here call the “Chinese New Year.” Marked by backed-up flights and sold-out train tickets, this time of year sees the migration of hundreds of millions of people back to their hometowns in China for lively, boisterous family reunions and sumptuous banquets. Whole extended families come together to look back on a year of hard work, spend time with family, and wish others a happy and prosperous new year. Families sit down on New Year’s Eve to watch the Chinese New Year Gala: an incredible, live celebration on television jam-packed with professional dancers, singers, comedians, and other top performers from all over China.
Most exciting when watched live, the Chinese Gala is like the Times Square’s New Year Ball Drop — that is, if only the Ball Drop were five hours long, and instead of a massive, plunging globe, people were watching thousands of professional Chinese performers dressed in dramatic and eye-dazzling costumes. The celebration culminates at the midnight of New Year’s Eve with the deafening sounds of cheers and firecrackers in all neighborhoods, ending the old year and ushering in the new with a glorious bang.
For those of us in America, the celebration usually isn’t as grand. We in the States who celebrate the Lunar New Year do so in gatherings much smaller than those in China, our celebrations usually including a re-run of the Gala. Indeed, the Chinese New Year in America is much less eventful, and at least for my family, this year’s celebration started with a rather awkward, funny experience.
Our “New Year” began after I switched on the YouTube Gala rerun on our Apple TV, leaving the show playing semi-loudly in the background as my mom, dad, brother, and I all went about our day as usual. It’d been about a whole two hours of Chinese singing and dancing performances before my mom realized that what we were watching was last year’s rerun (we hadn’t watched the one from last year). Shortly after I heard my mother’s voice calling me loudly:
“Jeff!” she exclaimed in Chinese, “I just realized that all the titles say 2016.” I laughed, and after a few minutes of searching, I found the correct year’s gala, the Year of the Rooster, 2017. That night we followed through with the traditional New Year wrapping of dumplings. I’m not terribly skilled myself, but this year my parents made perhaps some of the best dumplings I’d ever had. Needless to say, this year we were both proud and happy in celebrating Chinese New Year as a family.
Of course, I can’t safely say that all of us Chinese students in America (American-Born Chinese (ABC) and international students alike) have similar New Year’s experiences with our families. In fact, at Milton, students have created their own sort of Chinese New Year Celebration. With the support of parents, teachers, and the Asian society, students gathered the Friday of exam week to eat Chinese food (noodles, fried rice, candy), play games, and simply share laughter and conversation. Patrick Huang (II), a Chinese-American from California, found the gathering to be simple yet fun.
But the celebration didn’t stop there. On top of these universal party activities, the students tried some more traditional activities: the conventional New Year wrapping of dumplings assisted by Ms. Zhou, Chinese character calligraphy, and even the handing out of red envelopes—small, red paper pouches containing typically modest sums of money. Undoubtedly, our Milton version of Chinese New Year was a great success.
The mother of Kevin Lu (II), one of the parent volunteers, approvingly said: “It was a pleasure to see the students’ smiles and hear their laughter, especially after a week of exams. They were all so happy with plenty of [joy throughout]. This couldn’t [have] happened without the dedication of our Asian teachers, especially Ms. WuWong who runs the program. The Milton teachers are always taking extra care [of] our children to let them feel at home and to follow [the] Chinese New Year tradition.”
Truly, Chinese New Year may mean slightly different things for all of us. The Chinese — and Asian, for that matter — community is strong and supported wholeheartedly by the school. We consist proudly of a myriad of flavors: Hong Kong-ese, Shanghai-ese, Beijing-ese. But regardless of origin or difference, the Milton community has, with the support of parents and the Asian Society, created its own tradition for Chinese New Year. And as enrollment of international Chinese students continues to rise, this tradition might become more prominent and and permanent — creating a home and family for students outside of China during the most important Chinese holiday.
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