A 余当派 Lunar New Year / Spring Festival

Jump-Starting 2021 With a Kid-Friendly and Covid-Safe “Chinese” New Year Tradition

A few days ago, I started shopping for red underwear. It was a knee-jerk reaction to the realization that 2021 is my (and Tom’s) 本命年 Zodiac Year. Every new year, in preparation for Spring Festival, my Mom’s first instinct was always to figure out who in our family needs red underwear...and get it for them, to ward off bad luck. Yet, beyond that - and watching/half-ignoring 春晚 Spring Festival Gala - I don’t actually recall if we legitimately celebrated Chinese New Year in the U.S. It’s not a national holiday here, and was only recently acknowledged as an official holiday in the State of California, so when would we have had the time to do so?

It wasn’t until I lived in China (for part of undergrad, then work, then grad school) that I actually got to experience the massive impact that Chinese New Year has on its people, or Lunar New Year has on Asian culture. In China, it is marked by 2 weeks of non-stop firecracker lighting...to the point of aggravation for anybody who likes sleep. That kind of excitement will never happen State-side, but - be it out of shame, or guilt, or overcompensating - I’m determined to bring Lunar New Year into our family tradition so that our mixed-race babies can be equally excited for this holiday as they are for Christmas. Also, after the year we’ve had, who wouldn’t want more reasons to party?!?

Next thing I know, my mind and browsers were taken over by 春节风俗习惯 Spring Festival rituals, and how to alter them for our 1 and 3-year old under Covid restrictions. The most comprehensive English website I’ve found is ChineseNewYear.net. The more thorough Chinese websites noted variations by regions as well, but since I’m a mix of north and south China, and my kids are a mix of eastern and western cultures - all rituals were taken into consideration for House Mazanec, AKA 余当派 Yu-Tang Clan (like Wu-Tang Clan, but w/ our Chinese surname).

After too many hours of research, I have finally paired it down to the following Covid-safe and toddler/baby-friendly outline for 2021...to build upon for the years to come:

Pre-February 3 Preparations:

  1. Create New Year cards
  2. Shop for red colored clothes, chocolate coins & treats, red envelopes, decorations, CNY learning materials, and 白酒 (báijiǔ)
  3. Prepare traditional Chinese, Czech, German, French new year recipes to make with kids

February 4 - 10: Little Year (小年 / xiǎo nián)

  1. Clean house
  2. Haircuts for everybody
  3. Get organized for tax season (my way of getting our finances in order)
  4. Make & hang upside-down 福 character and 春联 decorations
  5. Learn about Chinese New Year through kids' books and videos

February 11: New Year’s Eve (除夕 / chúxì)

  1. Cook and eat all day with kids (in lieu of big family reunion dinner)
  2. Gift red envelopes & piggy banks to kids...introduce Rae to the concept of saving up
  3. After kids are asleep: Watch highlights & countdown & firecracker lighting on 春晚 over celebratory drinks
  4. Send greetings and blessings to family and friends

February 12th: Spring Festival (春节 / chūn jié)

  1. Gift & wear traditional Lunar New Year clothes
  2. Family Zoom session
  3. Hand out treats & cards to neighbors (our Covid-safe version of 拜年)
  4. Eat leftovers...there should be plenty! 年年有余!

**No sweeping all day! We wouldn't want to risk sweeping good fortune out the door. ;)

February 16th–20th: Lantern Festival Preparations

  1. Gather materials & bulb lights for lantern making
  2. Prepare moon and stars cutouts for kids
  3. Dumplings for 5 days straight! Make & eat various types, including Czech dumplings

February 26th: Lantern Festival (元宵节 / yuán xiāo jié)

  1. Make lanterns, moons, & stars to hang around the house (nothing flammable)
  2. Eat 汤圆 glutinous rice balls
  3. Moon gaze before bedtime

The wonderful thing about becoming a parent is setting our own traditions for our nuclear family. Though there won’t be lion dancing, street performances, lots of loud music and fanfare throughout this season in Santa Barbara, it doesn’t mean we can’t light up our own home and neighborhood in our own special way. So as a mixed-race family, we intend to incorporate Czech, German, and French recipes into our Chinese New Year’s Eve feast. Luckily, I have a husband who loves to cook and is equally excited about this initiative. I can already see him taking the search for suitable recipes too far if left to his own devices. Another perk of being married to Traditional Tom - the enforcer of all family traditions - is that he’ll keep 余当派’s Lunar New Year going strong, once we know what we’re doing.

Chinese language pedagogy may have been a specialization, but Chinese history and culture is a different beast. The silver lining to being shamefully ill-prepared in helping our kids understand their Chinese heritage is that we can learn about it together. So, I'd say navigating the most highly anticipated holiday in Asia is a pretty good place to start. Who knows, perhaps one day they will want to seek out more answers about their roots. And when that day comes, I will tell them that we are descendants from a line of Manchu royalty. My Great Great Grandmother on my Mother’s side was an 格格 Imperial Princess during the Qing Dynasty. We should investigate that lineage together.

Written: 2021-1-21

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