Reinventing Chinese New Year

Remaking a treasured childhood ritual for a new time and place

Reinventing Chinese New Year

Liping grew up in rural China. Like everyone else she knew, Chinese New Year was the best time of year. The one time a year she got new clothes. The one time a year she got to eat meat, dumplings, and other special foods. The one time a year she could see friends and relatives who lived more than a few miles away. The one time a year no one had to work.

But this last many years, Chinese New Year (the celebrations for which begin February 16th and last 15 days) has been a disappointment. In our modern world, getting new clothes just isn’t special when you can get them whenever you want. We now eat these special foods every week. In person or digitally we can visit friends and relatives any time. And living in the US, there’s no Chinese New Year spirit in the air.

No, even when we celebrate in China, Chinese New Year will never again hold that central place in Liping’s heart. But how could we make it better? How could we make it fun and relevant for Kubla?

“Kubla, do you know what makes Chinese New Year so special? It’s about spending time with the people we love. About special foods and special clothes. About giving to our friends. About new beginnings. And it lasts 15 days! Every day, 15 days in a row, we’re going to have a special Chinese New Year surprise.”

Here’s what we have planned this year.

1. A big Chinese New Year’s Eve party with all our Chinese friends at our house
2. Start something new together as a family that we can enjoy all year
3. Get new Chinese-style silk clothes
4. Go see the Chinatown parade
5. Make dumplings together as a family. For dessert make Eight Treasures Rice—the one traditional food that is still eaten only at Chinese New Year
6. Visit Kubla’s class to tell the story of the Chinese Zodiac and make paper lanterns
7. Make Chinese crafts that Liping made when she was a girl, including a Year of the Dog shaped hacky sack
8. Invite some non-Chinese friends and relatives to our home for a dumpling party
9. Play hooky from school and work and have a fun day in the big city
10. Go visit a cousin we rarely see
11. Give a Red Envelope (filled with money—a Chinese New Year tradition) and a toy (which doubles as a birthday gift)
12. Watch a fun kung fu movie
13. Make up new lyrics to a Chinese song we like and sing for Kubla’s grandparents
14. Make a scrapbook of all the fun things we did the last year
15. Lantern Festival activity at the Art Institute (the Lantern Festival, on the 15th of the Chinese Lunar calendar, officially ends the New Year celebration)

What rituals do you treasure from your childhood? How do you reinvent them for a new time and place?

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