Author: Bri Rodriguez-Cancio
This is Part I of a 4-part series on Chinese New Year to share special family memories of a good friend, who is from Shanghai, China. If you missed the introduction, read it here.
C'mon Home for Dinner!
This is a tradition that is staunchly held in the countryside; it is the biggest moment of the year. City folk still follow these get-togethers, but it is a bit more flexible. No matter how rich or poor you are, you must come home for Chinese New Year's Eve dinner.
With the industrialization of China over several decades, younger family members go seek their fortune in the "big city" but they keenly remember their family obligation to return home by New Year's Eve. I remember seeing photographs of train stations filled to the brim with people, everyone jockeying to get on the right train to get home, no matter if the train ride was 10+ hours long.
The Meal: Certain "Must Haves" on the Table
What are your "must have" dishes for major family/holiday events? Grandma's potato salad? "Abuelo's" or Grandpa's roast pig? For the Chinese, the central, essential dish is to have fish—a whole one—served up that night. It is called "Nian Nian You Yu." The word for fish [yú] has very, very similar pronunciation as the word for abundance [yú] in Chinese, so eating fish during the festival expresses the hope that there will be a general abundance in the coming year. There are so many cultural intricacies--I love it! Learn more here»
Post-Meal: TV, Games, etc. Stay up All Night!
After the multi-course family meal, there are many activities to engage in, to draw out the most important night of the year. Even little ones are encouraged to stay up as late as they want, to bring in the New Year. (I guess parents like me, with "sleep schedules" would be looked at like aliens...just as this happened to me during a New Year's visit to Venezuela many, many years ago.) Sounds like Dick Clark, the famous radio host, would fit right in with Chinese festivities, counting down the New Year...
The Stroke of Midnight, Xīn Nián Kuài Lè!!
Firecrackers & fireworks... ka-bam! Xīn Nián Kuài Lè or Happy New Year!
Traditionally, firecrackers were used to scare away Nian, a terrible beast that would come down from the mountains into the villages every year to eat people. However, in the modern world, people set off firecrackers to celebrate the New Year.