Photo Essay: Chinese New Year at the Family Home

This is the first Chinese New Year we’ve spent with the family in China since returning home and it has been one explosive holiday (pun intended)! So in lieu of the usual Friday content, I thought I’d share the day’s excitement with you through photos.

Wish you all success in the year of the horse! 马到成功!

Red couplets  — just written by my father-in-law — frame the doorway to the family home and welcome the new year (and the Spring)


My husband John gives our bedroom door a thumbs-up, now that we have a freshly written “success in the horse year” (马到成功) pasted on for good luck!


Visiting the ancestors’ graves, offering them dinner, incense and money for the afterlife.


Family bustling in the kitchen to prepare the big new year’s eve dinner, known as nianye fan (年夜饭)


Before we even sit down to dine, ancestors eat first. Here my family sets the table for them in the entrance way, right down to lighting the candles.


John sets the firecrackers out by the gate to the family home.


Burning money for the ancestors while setting off firecrackers in the background.


The best meal of the year, nianye fan (年夜饭). Since 10 of us sat down for dinner, my mother-in-law said we needed at least 20 different dishes on the table. My favorites? Taro root, winter bamboo, vegetarian meatballs, and water chestnuts.


The whole family gathers around the table for dinner.


Giving the kids in the family hongbao (red envelopes filled with money) for the new year.


Raise the red lanterns! It’s nightfall and the year of the horse is galloping our way.

19 Replies to “Photo Essay: Chinese New Year at the Family Home”

  1. You look great on the first pic and the dishes look delicious too! I have yet to celebrate Chinese New Year in China, but I think it would be a little less traditional than yours. Happy year of the horse!

  2. Wonderful pictiures! They capture the atmosphere really well! Makes me feel like being there 🙂 Your parents-in-law really has prepared an amazing New Years dinner. Did you also get to eat jiaozi? We traditionally eat them at midnight?
    Are you going to visit more relatives the coming days? Or is that no custom where you live (as so many of your family have already been there for the CNYs dinner)?
    Anyhow, enjoy your time.
    Wish you and your familiy a happy horese year

  3. Love these photos!!! A huge happy year of the horse to you, Jun, and the whole family! It’s so great to see how you’re celebrating the Spring Festival. Sadly, when I was in China, it was still taboo to respect the ancestors. People were afraid of getting in trouble for going back to the “old” ways. So we only had some simple red decorations, but no shrines or big red banners. Also, my former in-laws had to burn paper money in secret. It’s so nice to see that these traditions are back in full force. I guess that’s why I was so drawn to Hong Kong; they never stopped with these traditions.

  4. Awesome photo essay, Joss. Here in Pittsburgh, it is just a typical bi-weekly Buddhist spread and incense. Tomorrow night is a big party with friends. Wife made 汤圆 (glutinous rice flour balls filled with a sweet roasted peanut filling), while I will be making 九层糕 (9-layer chewy jellies) shortly.

    Glad to see that you and Jun are doing to well, and love to see photos of your home and life there! 恭喜发财!

  5. What a great collection of pictures!! You captured the day’s activities to perfection!! What a delicious spread of food!!!

    I am always interested in the variations of customs so I do have a few questions. 🙂 Do most people decorate their bedroom doors? In Taiwan, it is only entrance door into the house. Also, I see that your in-laws burned the money on the floor. Do most people do that or do they use a metal ‘money burner’?

    I hope you are having an amazing Chinese New Year!! Gongxi Fa Cai – Happy Year of the Horse!!

  6. @chinaelevatorstories, thanks for the kind words! Wishing you a happy year of the horse as well!

    @Anna, thanks for the comment! Here in my husband’s hometown (Western Zhejiang area), we don’t have the tradition of eating jiaozi at midnight. That said, my mother-in-law did prepare some turnovers made with rice flour dough — but as I understand, they’re not something we must eat at midnight. Yes, people do traditionally visit relatives during the new year…but honestly, we’re probably only going to visit the few relatives in our small village (big uncle, small uncle, grandma/grandpa). And that’s just fine w/ me since we don’t have a kid yet and everyone keeps pressuring us about it whenever we visit! (Sigh…)

    @Eileen, happy lunar new year to you too!

    @Susan, thanks for sharing your experience! I can imagine how it must have been in the mid-nineties in China. Well, things have changed a LOT and I’m sure you would find the Chinese New Year today incredibly festive, traditional and a lot of fun. It makes me proud to know that these customs are once again alive and well in the country.

    @Ryan, great to see your comment! Sounds like you and Yan had a nice little holiday in PA.

    @Marta, oh, it was a war zone last night. Actually I could hear all the fireworks and debris raining all around us as I was assembling this post late at night. I had a hard time sleeping b/c a lot of folks set them off early this morning (when they open their doors for the first time, they also set off firecrackers). Subsequently, I rolled out of bed late this morning with a huge headache and less sleep than I had hoped. Still, it’s really only the first day of the new year and then the 8th day of the new year when they’re going to set them off…so hopefully I’ll get a better night’s rest tonight!

    @Constance, I don’t know if everyone decorates their bedroom doors but I’ll ask my father-in-law about that. At least in our house, he has placed a “good fortune” character (福) on every bedroom door in the family house. I’m willing to guess that this is because many couples/families are living under the same roof so our bedroom door is in essence like the door to our family’s “home” within the home. I’ve seen people use metal money burners in other parts of China — I think my family just keeps it simple and burns it on the floor.

  7. Jocelyn,

    Happy New Year. I love your new house entrance and decoration. May your family succeed more in Horse Year.

    My sister was born in Horse year too. I’m from Dog year.

  8. Hi J.E. Thanks for sharing those photos. You and Jun both look super great! I am already salivating at the sight of those dishes. I cannot deny that you are simply the best!


  9. Jocelyn. My goodness, that looks like a beautiful celebration. I am jealous, and officially starving after seeing that picture of all the food. ^___^ Traditions are the best.

  10. This is the best description of Chinese New Year I’ve seen. You walk us through it so we feel like we’re there. I loved all the little details: the steam coming out of the pots, the flames and smoke, the Christmas tree behind the table, the little girl in the high chair, the slippers on the porch, the snow peas and the quail eggs. Yum. You and Jun look great.

  11. Happy Lunar New Years. This year I got sick 🙁 and ate a little bit of rice and Korean fried beef (bulgogi) Last year I went out to a restaurant, had a “good luck” dish of dumpling soup and ended up with a very bad year. I recall one time Lunar New Years fell on Valentines Day (2010 or 2009,) and my Korean ex drove over to give me a box of Ferrerro Rocher collection of candies 🙂 Since 2011 I tried to attend a Lunar Festival at a local university, but not really good years is all I can say. Guess this year I won’t be going there. Also, something random, been twelve years since I visited Russia. (We flew out on December 25th, 2011) and stayed there for a few weeks or so.

    Beautiful pictures Jocelyn and let’s hope this year will be a blessing for all of us in many ways 😀

  12. We are also busy welcoming the year of the horse and the noise and din of firecrackers and lion dance troupes coming to the homes to perform can be a bit overwhelming sometimes but we don’t mind. It is once a year and without them, what is CNY? We use metal containers to burn the “money” offerings, but some simply use the floor like your in-laws. Malaysian Chinese families nowadays hardly use couplets to decorate the door, except among the more “traditional” households. What a loss! Love to see the red lanterns! Many Malaysian Chinese homes do still have them lighted during CNY. The was a big spread you had! 新年快乐。 万事如意!恭喜发财! to you, John and your in-laws.

  13. Your pictures are brilliant – there is nothing better than having all of the family together. And the food looks delicious 😀 Happy New Year!

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