This post is part of Portraits of Place.
Ever since Victoria Gavia was in elementary school, she had heard about Chinese New Year, but never celebrated it herself. Now a senior at Alhambra High in Alhambra, California, she had a lot of questions. She sat down with Yvonne Lee, James Ho, Alan Tam of the Youth Feed to ask them about the money envelopes (and if non-Asians can get them), cleaning houses like crazy, and the exotic foods.
Do kids typically get a lot of money? Does it turn into a competition of sorts?
Because married couples are kind of obligated or expected to give red envelopes to younger siblings, cousins, nieces, and nephews, the more people you visit on Chinese New Year means more money. Some of our friends get almost a thousand dollars but we never really receive that much. It’s not really a competition because it seems that when you get older, you get less money.
Can non-Asians receive money?
YL: My mom gives out money to people who are not Chinese. So long as you say the phrase “Gong Hay Fat Choy,” which basically translates into wishing a Happy New Year with good health and prosperity, I think people of all ethnic backgrounds can participate and get a red envelope which is equivalent to giving good luck.
Why do Chinese celebrate New Year’s during this time of the year?
JH: Chinese New Year is based on the lunar calendar and not the Gregorian one that the Western World goes by. We celebrate it every year around this time according to the moon’s position to symbolize a new year.
Does your family do anything differently during New Years? How strict are the traditions regarding how to celebrate?
We eat exotic foods that we usually wouldn’t eat any other time of year. We clean insanely and have weird, traditional customs to abide by. Being very superstitious, we aren’t allowed to cut our hair or shave until three days after New Years because it supposedly “cleans” away the good luck of the New Year.
You were talking about the exotic types of foods what kind of foods do you eat?
YL: In my family we eat fungus, bambu and tree sap, thousand-year-eggs, jellyfish — stuff that we wouldn’t eat the rest of the year. There is a particular dish of seaweed that resembles hair. There is a lot of roast pork and various meets. Some of us eat shark fin soup. Then there’s bbq and deep-fried meats.
How else is celebrating Chinese New Year different from celebrating the regular New Year?
There’s no party. There’s no count down. Some people go to the temple to pray if you’re really hard core.
Is it true that you’re supposed to wear red underwear for the entire year if it’s your year?
We’ve never heard about that.