A Chinese-American New Year

February 21, 2015
Wendy Li

Every year, since before I can remember, my parents obsessively watch the Chinese New Year Gala (春节联欢晚会). As a child, I welcomed it, as it gave me an excuse to sit on the couch and watch TV for hours, without having my parents yell at me. Rather, we would all sit together and watch dance routines, laugh at skits, and marvel over stunts and acrobatics. When I was little and my grandfather lived with us in the United States, he would tell me stories about celebrations in China—how the whole country seemed to erupt in activity this month, how trains would overflow with people going home, and how when he was little, this would be the only day of the year the family could afford to eat dumplings.

Celebrating Lunar New Year has become a ritual for my family here in the United States. Even though New Years usually falls on a weekday, my parents wake up early to call our family back in China, go to work, and come home to cook a New Year's dinner. Growing up, we would have dinner parties on the weekend and invite other Chinese families in the area. Everyone would bring their own dishes, and since we came from all over China, our dinner table would feature cuisine from Sichuan, to Shanghai, to Henan (my family’s home), and even pizza (for the kids).

However, celebrating Lunar New Year in the United States can also be difficult. While we celebrate the biggest holiday in Chinese culture, most Americans have no regard for the holiday. It’s hard to find a lot of Asian food, and we don’t get the vacation time that most do in China. My mother used to drive over an hour to buy Asian groceries. As a kid, I remember thinking how unfair it was that we would have vacation for Jewish and Christian holidays, but that I still had to go to school, take exams, and write papers on New Years. But now that I no longer live with my parents, and that I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate Chinese New Year more and more, and specifically, our special American version of Lunar New Year.

Here at Princeton, while students complete their schoolwork and continue to write their theses, I have the chance to take a break from studying, go home, eat good food, and spend time with my family. It’s an opportunity that many students don’t have. Over time, more of my family is able to travel from China to the United States, and more of my family comes to celebrate New Years with us in our home. We invite other Chinese immigrants and exchange students who don’t have family in the United States. We spend time with other Chinese families in the area. We eat dumplings and pizza, watch CCTV (China Central Television) and American movies, and speak "Chinglish." Over time, our Chinese New Year celebrations have grown from small family gatherings, to large celebrations of Chinese-American culture.