Photo Essay: My Favorite Chinese New Year Moments

While this is the first year in many that we won’t be spending Chinese New Year with family, I still have fond memories experiencing China’s most important holiday – and I’d like to share some of those highlights through my favorite photos from Chinese New Year.

Chinese New Year Traditions

Red couplets, known as duilian in Chinese, are one of the most vibrant decorations for Chinese New Year. Here, I stand by the door of the family home adorned with red couplets just written by my father-in-law, a yearly tradition for him.

On Chinese New Year’s Eve, the family always visits ancestors’ graves — offering them dinner, incense and money for the afterlife.

On Chinese New Year’s Eve, my husband and his brother pay respects to a camphor tree that watches over the family.

The ancestors’ dinner table is always set first, complete with candles and wine, on Chinese New Year’s Eve. We will then pray to them and pay our respects.

Jun sets the firecrackers and fireworks at the gate to the family home on Chinese New Year’s Eve.

Before the ancestors table, we burn paper money to send to them in the afterlife.

On Chinese New Year’s Eve, the whole family gathers before the door to pray to the ancestors.

Here I’m carrying two festive gift boxes filled with Chinese New Year goods, also known as nianhuo. It’s customary to give gifts for the holiday.

Giving out red envelopes, known as hongbao, is also a family tradition Chinese New Year’s Eve.

Hanging red lanterns at the family home is an annual tradition to ring in the new lunar year.

The family watches the firecrackers and fireworks exploding at midnight, welcoming the new lunar year.

Jun and I greet the new lunar year dressed head to toe in our new clothing.

Chinese New Year Food

The Laba Festival (which was January 24 this year) falls on the eighth day of the final month of the lunar year and is considered the official start to the Chinese New Year season. Every year, my mother-in-law commemorates the day by dishing up the traditional laba porridge (腊八粥) for breakfast.

At my in-laws’ home, no Chinese New Year is complete without a heaping bag of dongmitang (冻米糖) sitting in the corner of our bedroom, ready for snacking at a moment’s notice. These crispy Chinese New Year treats are made from puffed rice mixed with rice syrup.

Every Chinese New Year, we always prepare savory rice turnovers known as migu in the local dialect. They’re stuffed with either veggies (salted bamboo, pickled greens and tofu) or veggies and pork.

You haven’t had tofu until you’ve tried tofu made from scratch. Here my mother-in-law is in the process of preparing homemade tofu.

Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner is the most sumptuous meal of the year, with so many dishes on the table there’s barely enough room for them.

Family at Chinese New Year

Bainian, or Chinese New Year calls, is one of the most important traditions for family, where relatives visit one another at home to send wishes for a prosperous new year. This is one of my favorite bainian memories — Jun’s grandma and grandpa, who have since passed away, happened to visit us at our home in 2014.

Jun’s grandma was actually one of my favorite people to see during the holidays. Here, she and I spend time in front of the family home.

Toasting family at the table is an important ritual during Chinese New Year. Here, I’m attending the first dinner of the year at an aunt’s home — she never fails to make a scrumptious tofu dish and some of the best kimchi I’ve ever tasted.

During Chinese New Year, we also travel to other relatives’ homes to dine and socialize. Here I sit with family before an aunt and uncle’s home, where we are having lunch.

I especially love when family come together to prepare food. Here relatives sit around the table making those savory turnovers.

But most of all, it’s a pleasure to spend Chinese New Year’s Eve together with family at the dinner table.

Wherever you are in the world, here’s wishing you an auspicious Year of the Dog filled with great fortune and blessings.

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4 thoughts on “Photo Essay: My Favorite Chinese New Year Moments

  • February 15, 2018 at 1:01 pm

    Dear Jocelyn,
    Thank you for continuing this column. I love seeing scenes of family life in China-they make me so comforted and happy to see how people live and appreciate each other.

    BTW- engineers in my continuing ed class in Xi’an asked if Western women were attracted to Chinese men. I laughed and said of course many of us are. The REAL question for them is ARE YOU attracted to us?!

    • February 16, 2018 at 11:03 am

      Hi Meghan, thank you for the comment and for reading! Cute about the engineers in your class — and true, it’s a good question to them!

  • February 19, 2018 at 12:42 am

    I love these photos! They make me miss China a lot. I like to see your husband’s family still carrying on such strong Chinese traditions (I was really touched by the camphor tree photo… speaks volumes about how much we value our home and family).

    Happy year of the dog to you 🙂 I guess you’re spending it in Beijing? In America it feels like any other day. I don’t miss the holiday crowds of Chinese New Year, but I miss the atmosphere.

    • February 24, 2018 at 3:47 pm

      Hey Mary, thank you so much for the comment and glad you enjoyed the photos! Yes, it is nice his family still continues these traditions — though sadly, that camphor tree was bulldozed away. 🙁

      Happy Year of the Dog to you too! Indeed you do miss the atmosphere when you’re not in China — but the crowds are something you’ll never miss!


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