We asked members of our Nueva community to share their Lunar New Year traditions and celebrations with us. This year's Lunar New Year, the Year of the Ox, is on Friday, February 12.
Kayla L., grade 7
With each spring comes Lunar New Year. To me, it’s more than the opportunity to receive gifts of cash from my relatives—it’s an opportunity to take pride in heritage, culture, and our family. When celebrating this holiday, I reflect and reminisce on personal experiences.
I smell the burning incense from the street corners of Taipei. I’m surrounded by the “aunties” and “uncles” (in Asian culture, everyone’s family) bargaining with market vendors, wanting a better price for the fish they’ll cook later that night. On the main street, last-minute shoppers crowd the stationery store, wanting to prepare red envelopes filled with money for the grandchildren. In kitchens, kids crowd around the “tangyuan,” sweet rice balls they anticipate eating for dessert.
To me, this is beauty. And, also, just how I celebrate with my family! We cook fish for dinner, a Chinese wordplay that symbolizes prosperity. We eat tangyuan, a symbol of family togetherness. And we gift (or receive) red envelopes—a rite of passage—celebrating the fortune of a new year.
This is me, it’s what I love, and what I’ve grown up in. I hope that with this small window into my culture, our community can continue being culturally accepting and take pride in our diverse backgrounds.
Sushu Xia, upper school history teacher
When I teach about Chinese New Year, I teach about the holiday as it is celebrated as a society-wide phenomenon—the two weeks off of school and work, the migrant workers leaving the big cities to travel home, and the fireworks and street festivities. However, I’ve never experienced it as such. Instead, I’ve always celebrated it in America, as an evening of making and eating far too much food, watching 春晚 (the CCTV New Year’s Variety Show), staying up until midnight, and wearing red to school the next day.
Last year, American society at large didn’t shut down until March, but concerns about COVID on WeChat (a Chinese multi-purpose messaging, social media and mobile payment app) by late January made my parents worried enough to cancel New Year’s Eve dinner. Suddenly, I was doing Chinese New Year on my own. I didn’t have time to draw up a menu a week in advance the way my dad would, but I managed to scrape together dumpling-making materials with a last-minute grocery run. That night, after work and school, I put on the Variety Show and taught my 3-year-old daughter about making wontons, New Year’s food symbolism, and, of course, critiquing the Variety Show. It was a simple affair, but fun. When I posted a photo of my New Year’s celebrations on WeChat and saw it reflected in what my extended family was doing around the world (good food, a celebratory atmosphere, and the Variety Show) it felt like I was part of a world-wide phenomenon after all.
Jennifer Quan, Nueva parent
Lunar New Year is one of our most celebrated holidays of the year, since it normally centers around a huge family gathering and lots of festive food. We typically dress in red clothes, exchange red envelopes (hong bao), watch lion dances, and eat traditional food such as long-life noodles, whole fish, dumplings, sticky rice balls (tang yuan), and sticky rice cake (nian gao).
This year, we also celebrated with other families within the Nueva community. The Chinese Affinity Group hosted a virtual celebration during which we all made dumplings. Middle and upper school students demonstrated dumpling making, read Chinese stories, and shared greetings in Mandarin. We look forward to the Lantern Festival (with a Chinese Affinity Group hosted event on March 7) which traditionally marks the final day of New Year celebrations.
Alegria Barclay, PreK-12 director of equity and social justice
Growing up overseas away from our extended family, I often felt pretty disconnected from my roots and my heritage. This was especially true of my Vietnamese ancestry, as I had a white father and my mother found it too challenging to teach us Vietnamese while so removed from her country and family.
Once a year, though, we would return to Southern California where my great-aunts, uncles, and cousins settled after the war and celebrate Tet, the Vietnamese new year, together. Food was at the heart of the celebration—great heaping mounds of chả giò, chalky mung bean cakes, red colored sticky rice, banh chung, and sticky sweet candied fruit. Surrounded by the sounds of my mother and her cousins laughing and talking in Vietnamese, the smells of star anise and fried food, and the comforting warmth of my aunt’s kitchen, I would relax into the moment . . . finally feeling as if I had come home and was connected to those who came before me and my loved ones sitting beside me. Now, as an adult, I make a point of bringing my own children down to SoCal for the holiday so they, too, can feel rooted in this larger tradition and reminded of where they come from and all the people who love them.
Nathan L., grade 10
I wouldn’t consider our family the most spirited about Chinese New Year in recent times because we haven’t seen our culturally active relatives—especially my grandma—in Los Angeles in a while. In the past, however, we’ve always eaten various cultural dishes and hung out with our cousins. Examples of the food we eat include fish and noodles, which are said to be good for long life, and glutinous rice balls, which are just really tasty. And, of course, I can’t forget to mention the dumplings—which are my personal favorite— which, in Chinese tradition, signify prosperity. Hopefully when we visit our relatives again on Chinese New Year, we’ll pick up where we left off and celebrate, mindful of the hardships we have endured during Covid.