How Chinese New Year traditions evolve in one Canadian family

In my family, Chinese New Year is not an affair set with traditions.

Chinese New Year snack box

In my family, Chinese New Year is not an affair set with traditions. Rather, it is an excuse to eat copious amounts of food and an opportunity to spend time with relatives.

Of course, any kid who celebrates Chinese New Year will tell you that the most exciting part is receiving red envelopes or “lai see”, as we say in Cantonese.

However, as I’ve gotten older, the stream of New Year money has dried up while my appreciation for family time has grown. 

Small things like my mom putting out the snack box, or "chun hop" in the living room used to delight me when I was a child, because we did not eat candy or other snacks often.

Most of all, we were definitely not allowed to eat in the living room, and this was the one time in the year when it was possible to eat snacks while playing at the same time. In contrast, I did not enjoy going to Chinatown for the Chinese New Year parade.

The drums were too loud, the firecrackers startled me, and I was sure the lion was going to eat me. My parents reassured me that they were meant to scare the bad spirits away, but I assured them that all those things did was scare me.

Lion Dance

As I grew up, the way we celebrated Chinese New Year changed. My parents no longer take my sister and I to the Chinese New Year parade, partly due to my fear of the lions, I’m sure. Also, the snack box does not appear during this time of the year anymore. Although, I may dig that delightful box up from the closet this year since I feel nostalgic now.

My family is pretty flexible in terms of how we celebrate Chinese New Year. The only thing that remains constant is the fact that we spend it with family. Perhaps those who are more traditional feel differently, but I find it interesting and fun to discover a new tradition each year.

Let me explain. I was raised in Vancouver, and as a result I am not familiar with a lot of the more traditional activities or superstitions associated with Chinese New Year. However, as I grow older, I find myself more interested in learning about how others celebrate the Lunar New Year.

For example, a couple of years ago a friend introduced me to the tradition of eating “tong yuen” , or glutinous rice balls, during this time of year. And like that I was hooked.

I now eat “tong yuen” even when it isn’t Chinese New Year. Other years, I entertain the idea of scheduling my hair cut appointments before Chinese New Year instead of after because it’s considered bad luck to cut your hair soon after New Year’s Day. This year, I plan to tackle the tradition of cleaning before New Year's Day.

Starbucks snake lai see

The great thing about being Chinese-Canadian is that you get to celebrate your favourite holidays from both cultures, therefore increasing the number of feasts you attend per year.

For instance, I am looking forward to my family’s dinner next weekend, even though I feel as though we just finished celebrating Christmas and the Gregorian New Year.

As people become more familiar with cultures other than their own, interesting cultural hybrids evolve. For example, my mom recently came back from Hong Kong where Starbucks sells their own “lai see”.

They come with a pack of notes that have Chinese sayings on them and English translations on to boot. It seems as though more and more people are embracing the Lunar New Year. I say, the more the merrier. 

Happy Year of the Snake! 

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