Chinese New Year Celebrations: I Miss Chinese New Year Like Crazy

Celebrate Chinese New Year
Celebrate Chinese New Year

I miss Chinese New Year….like crazy. And if you know what crazy means, you know how much I miss it.  The last time I celebrated Chinese New Year proper was 13 years ago. Now, that’s a long time, even in this electronic age. Sure, I live just 45 minutes from the nearest Chinese enclave with a thriving Asian population and if I step into 99 Ranch Market (the biggest Asian store) here, I may be able to catch a little of the spirit of Chinese New Year. I may be able to find some Chinese New Year goodies, some traditional flowers and the must-have angpaos (red packets for holding money) but there are nowhere in comparison when I remember the good old days—back home when the whole country stops to celebrate. How can you recapture that?

No, you can’t.

 I’ve tried going to Chinese New Year celebration hosted by Chinatown.  Sure, they have the dragon dance, and martial arts demonstration, barbecue meats and noodles and sticky rice cakes and streams of people( especially the overseas Chinese) trying to capture the mood but by my reckoning, the looks betray disappointment, a longing for the real deal.

Kids in traditional Chinese New Year garb--happily anticipating lots of angpaos from grown-ups.
Kids in traditional Chinese New Year garb--happily anticipating lots of angpaos from grown-ups.
Angpaos or Hongbaos, meaning red packets containing money. You want to collect lots of them. Only children and unmarried adults are entitled to them.
Angpaos or Hongbaos, meaning red packets containing money. You want to collect lots of them. Only children and unmarried adults are entitled to them.

What’s the real deal, you ask?

The real deal begins a month before…when little dough balls are made in red and white to celebrate the winter solstice. These little dough balls (my mom called them “yi” in my Teochew dialect) are drenched in sweet syrup and then eaten for good luck. She then dutifully placed pairs of dough balls on windows. The significance? I really don’t know—you tend to take things for granted until you’re transported miles away.

As the “yi’ are basking in the sun in the days ahead, the world seems to rearrange themselves to welcome Spring, the reason for Chinese New Year celebration—the first day of Spring. The balmy breeze starts, fresh and refreshingly nippy, playing with your hair and awakening your senses. Awakening your senses to the visual treats that are about to unfold. Store fronts transform themselves into bludgeoning display of Chinese New Year treats—barrels of red melon seeds, candied winter melon, peanuts coated with pastel sweet crusts, love letters (the Singapore version of pirouettes), pineapple tarts and preserved sweet olives and prunes—all sitting pretty and inviting under the bright orange lights (the merchants’ smart alecky  way of enticing you to buy) and you find yourself slowing down a bit and then to a halt as you give in to your sweet cravings. And of course, the sellers tell you everything is auspicious and everything is eaten for good luck and you indulge to good conscience.

Colorful dough balls or dong zhi--you must eat some for good luck.
Colorful dough balls or dong zhi--you must eat some for good luck.

Treats and more treats—savory ones that you must have for guests when they come visiting. Barbecue meats, sweating on charcoal grill and the ensuing aroma is almost intoxicating, adding to the mood and the ambience and you can’t wait. Sights and then sounds—Chinese New Year music flowing out of shops to kick up the mood even more and you find yourself humming along—a care-free soul walking down the street of treats. The world whirls in a kaleidoscope of colors and sounds and you’re a happy participant.

Then there are flowers you must have ---lanky pussy willows with shy fuzzy white buds waiting for the occasion to burst forth—every family has to buy some—if buds burst forth their encasing, you’re assured of good luck—so they say. Well, you got to buy some—a bunch, a handful or your year will be doubtful. Kumquats, chrysanthemum and miniature orange trees are all harbingers of prosperity too. The common echo as you stroll, “buy, buy, buy,” and the playful haggling over the price—an Asian trait you have to acquire if you want to shop for deals.

“My best price for you, miss—nowhere else, only for you, my sweet miss”

“You call that a good price? I just passed one stall and they are selling these for $2 less.”

“You must be kidding. Look at these—the freshest, the best—where else?”

The trick is always to pretend you’re not interested—walk away and if you hear the seller calling out to you, you know you have yourself a deal.

“Hey, miss—alright, alright—for you, I’ll take a loss.”

Chinese New Year shopping in Singapore--a rowdy affair that's totally exciting.
Chinese New Year shopping in Singapore--a rowdy affair that's totally exciting.
Pussy Willow to usher in the New Year
Pussy Willow to usher in the New Year
One taste of these delicious barbecue meats makes beef jerky taste like crap.
One taste of these delicious barbecue meats makes beef jerky taste like crap.
Pineapple tarts--my favorite!
Pineapple tarts--my favorite!

It’s a frenzied throng and you don’t even mind it—it only serves to drum up the mood and you find yourself carried along, too caught up with whole spirit of Chinese New Year to notice the heat and the sweat and the glare and blaring music and the constant haggling over prices—it’s all part and parcel and you love every minute of it.

Now, that’s what I miss.

Of course, I miss my family and the camaraderie that seems particularly sweet at this time as we huddle together to make new year treats and crack gingko nuts while we exchange friendly banter and fight over who gets the “drumstick” when my mom serves the soya sauce chicken at the reunion dinner (see there are only two from the chicken and drum stick (an inside joke) means you’re the favored one). The favored one of my mom. Well, I know I already know I’m the favored one, so I let my brothers fight it out.

But how do you even begin to share the joy of being in a family at this time of the year? No, you don’t, so I’ll stop here


Copyright @ Angeline Oppenheimer

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Comments 32 comments

DynamicS profile image

DynamicS 6 years ago from Toronto, Canada

Wow! I'm salivating! The food looks great.Happy New Year!


prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 6 years ago from US

I can understand you anglnwu, and I am missing it too, in here in the US we have only Chinatown and restaurants, I miss the ones I used to have in the Phils as well, thanks you dear, KUNG HEI FAT CHOI, Maita


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

Dyanmics, thanks! The food takes center-stage at this time of the year. Happy New Year to you too.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

Maita, Hong Xi Fatt Chai (the Chinese version of your Cantonese version) to you too. May the new year brings us lots of prosperity on hubpagse--jk. I believe I invited myself and you to Beth's CNY celebration--she's cooking up a storm from what I learned at the hubpages. Now, she needs to fly us both over, so we won't be missing CNY so much.

Once again, appreciate your continual support. So, what are you doing for CNY? It's now down to 2 days.


Petra Vlah profile image

Petra Vlah 6 years ago from Los Angeles

Dear anglnwu,

Keeping traditions alive while trying to adapt to a new life is the best way to celebrate your rich culture that endured for centuries.

The Chinese New Year is coming and I wish you the very best of health and happiness.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

Thanks, Petra. I'm sure you'll agree that you can take the girl out of the country but you can't take the country out of the girl. It may be hard to keep traditions but I'm going to try. Thanks for visiting and I look forward to seeing more of you.


Lady_E profile image

Lady_E 6 years ago from London, UK

Beautiful Hub. I hope you get to see your family for the next one and Celebrate with them. I like the photo's.

Kung Hei Fat Choi.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

Lady E, Kong Xi Fai Chai too (wish you prosperity--translation). Thanks for your kind comments.


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 6 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

You are a wonderful author! A pleasure to read!


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

J.S. Matthews, many thanks for your encouraging comment.


prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 6 years ago from US

Hi I ate at Chinese restaurant lunchtime here at Dallas and cooked in the house as well then I went to my friends house and we cooked together, Kung Hei Fat Choi, Luck and happiness throughout the year, Maita


febriedethan profile image

febriedethan 6 years ago from Indonesia

Hi, I recognize all of the dishes and I love the dong zhi too, I call it ronde in my languange, great hub!


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

Maita, Kong Xi Fai Chai too! Glad you had your fair share of good food and company. I had a quiet one. Just had a very fulfilling dinner at one of the authentic Chinese restaurants that serve traditional CNY food.I called home to Singapore and got to talk to everyone, so that really helped.

BTW, are you Chinese? I know there are many Chinese Filipinos. Enjoy your long weekend and once again, glad to hear back from you.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

febriedethan, Kong Xi Fai Chai! How did your reunion dinner go? Thanks for visiting my hub and I learned a new word today--"ronde." See u around.


festersporling1 profile image

festersporling1 6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

I had a lot of friends who celebrated it this weekend. Hope you enjoyed!


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

I had some fun celebrating CNY this weekend. Thanks for dropping by.


tony0724 profile image

tony0724 6 years ago from san diego calif

anglnwu that was just thoroughly fascinating. I have always found eastern cultures and traditions completely intereting. Thank you for teaching me a little more about yours.And you know I certainly wish you multiple blessings it the year of the Tiger ! ( I am a Rat )

And the pineapple tarts look yummy !


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

Tony, so good to see u again. Glad you find eastern culture interesting. Of course, speaking as a Chinese person, I'm partial to the rich traditions. Do you know that Rat is the very first zodiac animal because it won the race with its cunning? It beat out the tiger, the horse and even the ferocious dragon.

Wan si ru yi! (May you everything go well with you in the Tiger year!)Thanks for dropping by.


jill of alltrades profile image

jill of alltrades 6 years ago from Philippines

This is a very fascinating hub about the Chinese New Year celebration.

We have many Chinese here in the Philippines so we also celebrate Chinese New Year in a big way. However, I noticed that you did not mention any "tikoy" - a sticky rice cake as part of the food you eat. Tikoy is standard fare here. All the Chinese give them as gifts to friends for good luck.

Anyway, Kung Hei Fat Choi! Wan si ru yi!


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

Jill, so good to see u again. Yes, we do have sticky rice cakes but since many hubbers have shared that, i thought i share just personal thoughts. Sticky rice cakes are meant to sweeten the mouths of kitchen gods when they ascend up to heaven to make their yearly reports. With their mouth sweeten and probably not very conclusive for much talking (sticky), they are "bribed" into giving a favorable reports (so it goes).

In Singapore, we have the unique tradition of exchanging mandarin oranges for good luck and good will. It is a must to tot pairs of oranges (2 or 4) when you go visiting. You exchange oranges with the host family. The best part?--you get those really cute tot bags for oranges.

Once again, thanks for dropping by. Wan si ru yi and "sen ti chien kang" (wishing you the best of health.


dfelker 6 years ago

Oh, such memories! There was a place on Mott St in NYC that had the BEST sweet chinese-style beef jerky. I miss that place, have yet to find its equivalent in LA area.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

dfelker, good to see u again. Yum, chinese-style beef jerky. I wish they have one here in San Diego. Thanks for dropping by.


ReuVera profile image

ReuVera 6 years ago from USA

Oh, you are such a good writer! Your descriptions are so vivid! Happy New Year!

I understand you in full! I also miss celebrations from my other lives (in Israel and Russia)


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

Sweet Vera, it's so good to reconnect with you. As transplants, we will always miss the good old days, especially traditions because nothing come close.

Thanks for your kind comments and I look forward to seeing more of you.


tim-tim profile image

tim-tim 6 years ago from Normal, Illinois

Nice hub! Well done:) Thanks for sharing. I did one as well. Love the picture with the kids.


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

tim-tim, sin nian kuai le! Thanks for dropping by. Love your new picture!


wandererh profile image

wandererh 6 years ago from Singapore

Can't believe that Chinese New Year is over, and it's now back to work. Now you know how behind I am on my email.

Happy belated new year. :)


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

wandererh, good to see you again. Just wondering where you were? So you were taking a CNY hiatus--way too long. Welcome back and Happy New Year. Now, get back to work!


wandererh profile image

wandererh 6 years ago from Singapore

Ouch! Boy, am I glad you are not my boss. :)


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 6 years ago Author

Wandererh, i wouln't dare be your boss. Besides, I wouldn't make a good boss--I give myself too many coffee breaks. Shh...don't tell anyone. I know you're a self-starter, so why change that? Happy working, now.


Jhangora profile image

Jhangora 4 years ago from Dehradun

I hope you enjoy lots of success and happiness in the coming new year of the Male Water Dragon. Really liked reading your Hub. The pics are awesome!


anglnwu profile image

anglnwu 4 years ago Author

Jhangora, thanks for your well wishes. Glad you like the hub.

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