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March 11, 2013

Ushering in the Year of the Snake

By ChiBus staff  |  march, 2013, Issue 1
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A Chinese New Year Celebration in Southampton

(CC Image courtesy of Ryan Prince, Flickr)

Chicago Business recently spoke with first year student Jerry Jiang about the Chinese New Year, which occurred on Feb. 10. Jerry shares some of his childhood experiences with the holiday, and describes how the celebrations differ between the US and China.

Chicago Business: What are the some of the main traditions associated with the Chinese New Year in China?

Jerry Jiang: For the Chinese New Year, we usually have a big family reunion. Activities can vary by region, but some of the more common include:

1. A memorial event for the deceased family members.

2. A family dinner; we usually have various kinds of traditional foods, like dumplings, red date tea with tremella, etc.

3. Fireworks both for children (for fun), and for adults to celebrate new year. The noise of the explosions is used as a way to drive away bad luck and demons.

4. Children ask for Red Pockets with money inside as gifts from parents and all close relatives.

5. Visiting friends and relatives on the first day of the new year with greetings of good luck (Bai Nian).

6. A Lion/Dragon show - although this has become rare.

CB: Since activities can vary by region, did your family do something special?

JJ: My family would go to the Buddhist temple to pray for all the best in the new year, and may have some vegetarian food in the temple (as vegetarian food is not common in China).

CB: Have traditions changed over time?

JJ: Especially for the Bai Nian, as people become more and more busy, and family members work and live farther away from hometown, some tend to not return for Chinese New Year, but greet family members online, or via phone.

CB: Many of the activities involve children. Do you have a favorite childhood memory of the celebrations?

JJ: I used to be involved with lots of fireworks as a child. The other children and I would play with fireworks by ourselves on the New Year's Eve for more than two hours, competing with each other to create the most beautiful fireworks for the community. And it was especially important for us to stay in that night till the new year came, and ask our parents for Red Pockets (money was inside as gifts).

CB: Do you have a favorite Chinese New Year tradition as an adult?

JJ: My favorite Chinese New Year tradition is the New Year Dinner. We typically have all the members in the family get together, we toast for all the achievements we had in the past year and we make wishes to family members for their health, study, work, everything. We also memorialize the deceased family members by placing an extra set of dining dishes with food and beverage at the table (it remains untouched for the dinner).

CB: In what ways does celebrating the New Year in the US differ from China?

JJ: Actually, in the US, there are even more traditional activities than in China, such as the lion/dragon show in Chinatown, or dressing in the Chinese traditional suit, which is usually made of silk. This is because Chinese in the US tend to keep the traditions while in China traditions are changing due to the social trend.

CB: Were you surprised that celebrations were actually more traditional in the US?

JJ: I am really surprised to see the traditions in the US. I believe the Chinese traditions in the US have been less influenced by mainland China, and are more like the traditions of 100 years ago.

CB: What is the meaning of 2013's "year of the snake"?

JJ: We use 12 animals as a circle to stand for years, with each year as one animal. For people born in those years, we call him/her the baby of the snake. It's pretty much like astrology, only that we use the year instead of month for each sign, and we consider 12 animals as 12 different personalities, such as the mouse for smartness, and cattle for industriousness. For seniors, they usually distinguish age by the animals, such as, "he is born in the year of the snake," instead of stating the year.

Last Updated 3/11/13
Last Updated 3/11/13