An interview with WSP Parent and Early Childhood Assistant, Yixin Zhang
by Christine McQuade-Hsu | Advancement Director
How did you celebrate the Lunar New Year when you were growing up?
I was born in China and grew up in China. Although we have many festivals, Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, has been my favorite festival since I was a young kid.
In my memory, when I was little, my parents didn’t have any days off except during Spring Festival. They stayed at home and the whole family was very busy shopping, cleaning, cooking, etc. My sisters and I were allowed to watch TV shows at any time without time restrictions.
The most important time during the long Spring Festival was New Year’s Eve. My parents usually spent the whole day preparing for the New Year’s Eve dinner. You could find almost all of the best food on the New Year’s Eve dining table, which were hard to obtain for daily meals, or foods with good meanings, ie. fish was a must-have, as it means “surplus”, having surplus year after year, surplus in money, food, and clothes.
New Year’s Eve dinner belonged to the whole family. The fireworks were the favorite activity for young children. My sisters and I were allowed to stay awake to see the fireworks at midnight. Every family fired the fireworks starting around 11 pm and continued for about one and half hours. The loud sounds of fireworks drowned out all of the other sounds: people’s talk, TV shows, etc. People enjoyed the noises and wished the best for the new year in the splendid flames of the fireworks.
My sisters and I were not allowed to get up late on the first day of the Spring Festival although we went to bed at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Another round of fireworks sounded violently again in the early morning.
Afterward, every family member changed to new clothes dedicated to the new year. My sisters and I bowed down to my parents to wish them a happy new year with good health. My parents sent the red envelopes to each of us, which was my whole year’s allowance. I usually spent the money on books and magazines.
Then, my favorite festival tradition followed: dumplings for breakfast, which was a tradition for the first day of the Lunar New Year, and particularly special compared to our everyday breakfast of porridge. When I was young, dumplings of all kinds were my favorite food.
We spent the entire first day visiting neighbors, friends, and relatives, with every pocket filled with candies. People in the streets had smiling faces and greeted each other: “Guo Nian Hao!”, which means “Happy New Year!“
Children were gathering together to show off their new clothes, and to compete for who got the maximum amount of candies and the best candies. Boys played with the small firecrackers which didn’t need a lighter but when slammed into the ground would cause a crisp sound to pop up.
What are some of your favorite ways to celebrate it now?
Now, I live overseas with my family. Usually, we have a simplified version of the Chinese New Year celebration. We keep the main elements of the traditions: dumplings, red envelopes, cleaning, visiting, and greeting friends, inviting relatives for the New Year’s Eve dinner.
Instead of spending time watching TV shows, we go outside to attend the celebrations in some museums. San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum is one of the places I recommend to everyone who wants to know more about the Chinese New Year.
The Lion Dance is also a good one. I had never seen it when I was in China because it was popular in the very South of China, and I was born in North China. My daughter Yumeng, who is a 6th grader now, was fascinated with the Lion Dances when she was little.
Could you suggest any activities, recipes, crafts for others to try?
If writing Spring Festival couplets in Calligraphy are too difficult for you, Paper Cutting is a craft that you definitely want to try with your children. You could follow this video to make a beautiful pattern for your windows.
Some people refer to the Lunar New Year as a Spring Festival. Could you explain?
The Spring Festival has a long history. It originated from the activities of worshiping gods and ancestors at the beginning and end of the year in the Yin and Shang Dynasties which was more than three thousand years ago.
In ancient China, the Lunar Calendar was used officially and popularly, like today’s solar calendar. The New Year’s celebration started on the 8th day of lunar December and ended at the night of 15th day in lunar January as the Lantern Festival. The peak time of the whole celebration was the first day of the lunar year to celebrate the coming of the spring and people would begin the farming tasks after the long winter break. People worshiped the gods for a smooth, happy, and good harvest year.
Spring Festival was another name for the Lunar New Year.
Do you have any new year’s wishes you’d like to share?
The British poet P.B.Shelley said, “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”
As 2022’s Spring Festival is coming on February 1st, the year of the tiger, according to the legend of Chinese New Year, the monster of “Nian” who ate people once a year during the beginning of the New Year, was scared by the loud noise of fireworks, the red staff i.e. red decorations including red couplets, red paper cuttings sticking on the window glass, red clothes etc. The “Nian” never comes again.
I wish the world will conquer the “monster” of the COVID-19, which will be going away soon and never come back, as what the wise ancient Chinese did to “Nian”. And that we will have a really nice spring without masks. Our beautiful smiles will be fully presented and we will be breathing freely the fresh air anywhere.