Senior Ryan Ho receives a "hung bao" from his father the night before Chinese New Year. The senior's parents came all the way from Taiwan just to spend this important holiday with him. It is customary for adults to give children the red envelopes. (Photo used by permission of Ho)
It’s Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and New Year’s all in one—for Chinese students, the Year of the Horse starts today
The holiday season is over for most of us, but for a portion of the Country Day community, the real end of the festivities is Chinese New Year. The 12-year cyclical system that Chinese New Year runs on means that this year is the Year of the Horse. But some traditions don’t change no matter the year.
Chinese New Year is a giant holiday for those who celebrate it. A hybrid of Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Christmas, New Year’s and spring cleaning, the 15-day holiday begins with the gathering of the extended family often in their hometowns.
“I have around 20 family members who gather with each other every new year,” said senior Daniel Kong.
Because China is home to 1.3 billion people, this has led to the phenomenon known as the greatest human migration on earth, as hundreds of millions of factory workers travel thousands of miles, in car, boat, train, plane, even bicycle, across the country trying to get home.
This is followed by a top-to-bottom cleaning of the home to brush away bad energies and spirits from the previous year.
The next day is like Black Friday, as shoppers load up for the new year.
“My family buys practically new everything: new clothes, new shoes, even new food,” said freshman Kevin Huang. Huang’s hometown is Shantou, China.
“It is very important to buy things that day, because by tomorrow (the next day) not only will there be nothing left in the stores, but most of the stores will be closed because the shopkeepers will be with their families.”
Huang said the next day is all about family with the entire clan spending most of the day together.
His family makes dumplings to prepare for huo guo or “hot-pot dinner,” similar to the Japanese shabu-shabu.
Early dinner allows for prime-time viewing attention to be given to the Chinese Central Television Network’s New Year’s gala, a yearly staple for many.
“It’s definitely a tradition in my house,” said junior Lulu Wu.
The New Year’s gala is a variety show, with celebrity appearances, performances, and a countdown. Viewership of the festivities now tracks in the hundreds of millions, making it the most popular yearly programming anywhere in the world. After dinner, firecrackers are lit at midnight, which everyone stays up to watch.
“Going to bed before midnight is bad luck,” said Huang. After midnight, new clothes bought several days before are put on.
The next day is often the highlight for children, as it is when hung bao (red envelopes stuffed with cash) are passed out.
“The biggest hung bao I ever received was about $300,” said sophomore Tom Long. Long said he is unsure whether he will receive money this year.
“One of the best perks of being a Chinese kid is the hung bao,” said junior Johnson Ma. “After all, who doesn’t love free money? And since you get (hung bao) from all of your relatives, you can make a lot in just a day or two.”
For Huang the amount of money from his parents depended on his end-of-semester final exam test scores. This year, his parents didn’t give him any money, because his final grades were not all A’s, he said.
After hung baos are distributed, families visit each other to wish each other a happy new year and distribute more hung baos to distant relatives and friends. (Hung baos are only given from elders to their younger relatives—never in reverse).
“This will be my time giving away a hung bao since my newborn cousin is just a couple months old,” said Ma.
Most of the Chinese students will miss out on the holiday because they don’t have family in America. Huang and Ma, however, both have relatives in the northern California region and will be spending their weekends with them.