The supermarket was packed yesterday.
Today, Mom is preparing food. I select music for a playlist for tonight’s guests. We are complaining about cleaning the house.
No, it is not because it is Superbowl Sunday. This year, overshadowed by an American pastime I never quite understood, Chinese New Year Eve is on the same day.
Our local Asian supermarket, A Dong, was crowded by old Asian grannies, cute Asian children, and the occasional curious white couple—long lines weaving through the aisles. My family—there for shrimp, fish, tofu, snacks we can’t get anywhere else, and Chinese vegetables—waited in line for about forty-five minutes. This, according to my aunt, was nothing compared to New York’s Chinatown; she had apparently started a few fights over overpriced food and attempting to push through the hoard. (A fierce lady, she won, of course.)
I was born in America after my parents’ immigration in the 1980s, so I know that my experience as a Chinese-American is different from many others. But other than a trip to Chinatown when I was little, this is what I know of the lunar holiday.
We start out this morning with a visit to my Tai-Q and Tai-Yi, my eldest aunt and uncle. We stop by a traditional Italian bakery, the one that baked my parents’ wedding cake, to grab some red and gold cupcakes. Red is a lucky color, and gold signifies money and prosperity. Mom made a nice fruit basket filled with oranges. Oranges, Mom tells me, are a symbol for luck. We ring the doorbell and when they come to the door, we parrot, “Gong Xi Fa Cai!” or “Wishing you lots of money this year!” We are all dressed in red.
After receiving Lucky Money, or Hong Bao, from my relatives, we have some dry wonton noodles (noodles signify longevity). I discretely count up the money I got: Hong Bao are given from the older generation to the younger one, and my siblings and I, being among the youngest nieces and nephews, also get money from our older cousins. It’s a good time.
Mom has already started cooking some soft pork shoulder this morning and we wrap and fry some egg rolls while waiting for the pork to cook. We steam whole fish as well. My brother goes and gets a last-minute haircut—he’s not supposed to have one the first few days of the new year.
There are traditional things that my siblings and I, American kids, have rejected, such as the white rabbit candy or nuts, that my parents don’t bother to buy anymore. Dad forces me to eat some strange looking fruit—they look kind of like potatoes, but on the inside, they’re super sweet and mushy. I don’t like it much.
We feast on food tonight with enough leftovers for tomorrow. Mom says that tomorrow, the first day of the new year, we are not to cook or clean away the good luck.
After we eat, we rip open the tortilla chips and salsa, pop a can of soda, and turn on that American sporting event. Because hey, we are Americans too.
The old things from my childhood remind me of a picture book I read as a kid, Sam and the Lucky Money by Karin Chinn. It follows the story of a Chinese boy in Chinatown, who after excitedly getting his Hong Bao, realizes four dollars cannot buy much… but it means the world when given to someone else who is less fortunate. The spirit of the holiday, for children, is often focused on receiving money, but it also is about giving it too. In this spirit, I remind myself to grab some leftovers and pass them out to friends at school.
Xin Nian Kuai Le! Happy New Year! Happy Year of the Monkey!
Steph Koo is a third year student majoring in English and Biology. She is the editor of the Fiction panel of Long River Review.