Growing up in China, dumplings were an essential part of Lunar New Year. It's said that the more you eat of the little dough packages containing chopped meat and vegetables, the more money you will receive in the new year. I loved to help and make dumplings with my grandparents, although I made a massive mess every time, it was fun.
Many Chinese-Australians celebrate Lunar New Year, often choosing dumplings as New Year's Eve dinner. Similar to Christmas dinner in Australia, this is an old-style "reunion meal" in China, where family generations travel vast distances to gather around and enjoy a feast.
My husband and I have been living in Australia for over 12 years, and our children were born here. Since moving to Australia from China, it has been hard to maintain cultural traditions. Especially in our multicultural family. We barely speak in Chinese as my husband is originally from Bangladesh, so English has become the primary language. I think celebrating our traditions is very important for our Australian-born kids.
Getting them to know the traditions, and connecting with our culture is a great way to help them understand more about parents’ cultural and racial background.
Getting them to know the traditions, and connecting with our culture is a great way to help them understand more about parents’ cultural and racial background. I want them to grow up proud and aware of their cultural differences and are confident among others. Although Lunar New Year is an entrenched part of Australian culture, my young children know nothing about its traditions.
Besides dumplings, nian gao is another traditional food. New Year cake made with gluey rice, red dates, and sugar, which also represents increasing fortune.
We have another tradition: red envelopes, known as hong bao in Mandarin. In the south of China, traditional Chinese parents used to tie coins together with red string and place them under their children's pillows. But now, they seem to prefer the small red envelopes, which are filled with cash notes, and envelopes represent coins and string.
I really miss this tradition even though I am no longer a kid. Little red envelopes are filled with cash and given by adults to young children as a symbol of good luck. Various stories told that they protect children from a legendary ghost, Sui, who appears on New Year's Eve and curses young children by touching their heads. I used to get very scared of this kind of monster story, and I couldn't go anywhere by myself during the entire New Year holidays. This is why Chinese New Year's Day is also called Guo Nian (过年) in Chinese, which means 'overcome Nian'. The character 年 (Nián) means a 'year' or 'the monster Nian'.
Traditional Lunar New Year celebrations are an opportunity for intercultural exchange and understanding.
Traditional Lunar New Year celebrations are an opportunity for intercultural exchange and understanding. I am happy that our children are getting deep into the local culture, but maintainingChinese cultural traditions are just as important.
Asian food expert Phenie Ooi also has Australian-born children, and ensures they learn about Chinese culture. "A few years ago, my two older kids joined a Lion Dancing troop, and the entire family helped out at the Chinese New Year festival in Chinatown. I loved how children got involved in that, even though it was only a short stint. That taught them a lot about Chinese culture and the significance of lions and dragons during Chinese New Year.”
I am sure that I will tell my children about the monster story this year as they're a bit older now; hopefully, they won't get scared like me. Also, as Ooi suggests, I may create some new family traditions with them. One thing is that I certainly get them involved in some traditional Chinese cooking, such as dumplings and nian gao. And they will love the idea of red envelopes! They will keep the luck, and I will keep the cash for them for when they grow up.
We’re planning to take our kids to China after this pandemic as well. It's important for our children to see how we used to celebrate Chinese festivals over there so it can help them keep one foot firmly rooted in my home culture.
Lunar New Year is a time that brings them closer to their long-distance relatives, as well as one of their roots. I hope they will appreciate that one day.
Check out the new SBS Chinese site for LNY themed-content #LNY21.