customs/rituals, Festivals, folklore, food, good luck/bad luck, holidays

GUNG HAY FAT CHOY! (Happy New Year)

L. A. Chinatown New Year's goods for sale.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
L. A. Chinatown New Year’s goods for sale. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

 

Las Cruces, NM, supplies all my needs except one — GOOD CHINESE FOOD. True, they have a few Chinese restaurants here, but they mainly offer food that has been sitting in steam tables for hours.

Good Chinese food is always freshly made to order. That is why, when I recently returned to Los Angeles, eating at a Chinese restaurant was my number one priority. Gorging on fresh pork dumplings, pea sprouts, and beef rolls, I devoured the perfect fix.

I was also fortunate to have visited during the 2015 Lunar New Year. As I eyed all the new souvenirs I heard myself skeptically say, “Probably made in China.” Duh, I should hope so.

Chinese monk shopping for New Year's.  L. A. Chinatown.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Chinese monk shopping for New Year’s. L. A. Chinatown. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

When our children were young, we always brought them to Chinatown for the excitement, parade, and firecrackers. That was part of our family tradition, but I was reminded one year that I was an outsider.

During the festivities, I ran into a neighbor at a souvenir shop and when she left, I merrily said, “Happy New Year, Marie,” to which my offended salesperson retorted, “It’s not YOUR New Year.”

But ALL New Year’s celebrations are mine regardless of religion or ethnicity. I love the anticipation, the colorful rituals, the special clothing and colors, the feelings of hope that the new year will be an improvement over the last.  These emotions are universal and should be shared.

Los Angeles Chinatown, Year of the Ram.  Fake fireworks.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015
Los Angeles Chinatown, Year of the Ram. Decorative firecrackers. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who enjoys celebrating holidays — everyone’s holidays.

customs/rituals, folklore, food, good luck/bad luck, holidays

How to Manifest Good Luck in the New Year

Southerners believe that eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day brings prosperity.  This is the same reason that Italians eat lentils on New Years.  Mexicans eat twelve grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve.  Eating one grape for each bell brings good luck and good health for the ensuing twelve months.  At Jewish New Years participants eat apples with honey to ensure a sweet new year.

from left to right:  apples with honey; lentils; black-eyed peas; 12 grapes.  © Photo collection and text, Norine Dresser, 2013.
from left to right: apples with honey; lentils; black-eyed peas; 12 grapes. © Photo collection and text, Norine Dresser, 2013.

The Chinese display tangerines for good fortune based on the golden color of the fruit.  They give red envelopes with money inside to unmarried children and set off firecrackers to frighten away the evil spirits.  Similarly the Japanese shoot two arrows into the air on New Year’s Day to scare away the evil spirits that might be lurking in the heavens.

Chinese good luck symbols; tangerines; red envelopes with money inside; firecrackers.  © photo collection & text, 2013.
Chinese good luck symbols; tangerines; red envelopes with money inside; firecrackers. © photo collection & text, 2013.

An underlying belief is that acting in a particular way on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day predicts what will happen in the new year.  I had a student newly-arrived from China whose family was crushed when they found a flyer in their mailbox from a local funeral home on the first day of the Lunar New Year.  They worried all year that someone in their family might die.  Fortunately, that did not happen.

The Vietnamese believe that the first person to enter the house after Midnight on New Year’s Eve is an omen of what will happen for the rest of the twelve months.  Thus many arrange for a successful man to be the first foot over the threshold. Imagine the dismay of both parties when a Latina divorced woman arrived at her Vietnamese neighbor’s door with flowers before the invited successful male arrived.  Grandmother slammed the door in her face, and the generous neighbor was devastated as well as confused.  Beliefs in the First Foot are also prevalent in the British Isles, and Daniel Summerbell, my English great-nephew, was once recruited for that job.

What sometimes confuses us is that the New Year occurs on different dates according to different calendars.  One April, my niece, Susan Dresser who taught elementary school in Sacramento, CA, was dismayed when a few ordinarily compliant students began throwing water at her.  Susan was about to discipline the children until an aide advised that it was Cambodian New Year and throwing water at people was a custom to spread good luck.

What will you do to bring good luck in 2014?  Will you drink champagne? Blow horns?  Kiss someone you love?  Make resolutions?

Noisemakers; champagne, hat, confetti.  ©  Common American New Year's symbols, Norine Dresser collection, 2013.
Noisemakers; champagne, hat, confetti. © Common American New Year’s symbols, Norine Dresser collection, 2013.

Happy New Year to all!

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who drinks champagne on New Year’s Eve, sings “Auld Lang Syne” but doesn’t make resolutions.