Ringing in ’09 with family

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It is the Lunar New Year. I usually think nothing of it. To me, Jan. 1 is the new year. From now on, this will not be so.

Before I left my dorm room for my trip to China, I cleaned my room thoroughly to sweep away any bad luck and make room for the good luck.

The two hour trip to Guangzhou, China, was overwhelming. People were rushing to get home by New Year’s Eve as it is tradition to spend time with family. This will be the first time in a very long time where I will see my extended family for the new year.

This holiday is about a week long. I stepped off the train and was warmly welcomed into my family friend’s apartment, someone I never met before. I got hugs, smiles and an elaborate dinner to celebrate my arrival. There were flower markets set up only during this holiday. Red lanterns are hung. Lights decorated almost every window. New Year greetings were on every door. Mandarin orange trees sat by homes and businesses for golden luck. I thought to myself: When I think of China, I will now think of these moments.

The entire week is filled with rituals. Every day of the New Year was something different. The eve and the first day are spent with close and older relatives. Traditionally, the second day is for a married woman to visit her parents. The third and fourth days were usually not spent with family because you might be prone to argue on these days. Sometimes people have a dinner with friends or co-workers and their bosses. The following days are spent eating lighter foods since the entire week consists of hearty dinners. There will also be a day where you would go to the temple to pay your respects to your ancestors and pray to the gods for a good year.

On New Year’s eve, 10 people surrounded the dinner table with more food than I could imagine. Laughter, clinking of glasses, flashes from cameras, relatives reaching for food-it was all so new, so exciting. I never felt so welcomed and happy to be around family. To them, it may seem like a routine. To me, it gave the word “family” a whole new meaning.

Then, the rituals began. Red envelopes were passed and I bowed and thanked them with a hint of guilt. I am not used to people handing me money. It seemed strange even though my parents give me lai shee every year. These red envelopes symbolize good luck and a wish for good fortune. In return, I wish them good health. We sat in my uncle’s living room watching the fireworks outside. They talked how 2008 was very unlucky with the earthquakes in Sichuan and the “economic tsunami.” They hoped that because I spent new year’s with them, that 2009-the year of the ox–will be more fortunate.

As soon as we were done with one meal, we were off to another to meet other relatives and friends. I have never eaten so much in one week. By the end, I was exhausted from eating. My cheeks and jaw hurt from smiling and laughing. Red envelopes, candies and gifts filled my bags. Giving is a tradition. You want the best for your family even if you haven’t seen them for eight years or if you have never even met them before.

It all starts and ends with family.

Tina Li is a junior in the John Cook School of Business, studying in Hong Kong.