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Editor's Notebook: Ringing in the Year of the Dragon

Revisiting my family's tradition and making my own

I grew up in a family filled with traditions, superstitions and a barrage of cultural oddities. Between being born in Miami but having Peruvian-born parents who were raised by my Chinese grandparents, life, to say the least, was different.

But my disparate cultures really come together with our new year celebration. Growing up in the states, my cousins and I always chose to celebrate the new year on Jan. 1 — as most of our school friends did — not on the Chinese new year holiday.

Whatever day we chose to celebrate, though, was just a date on a calendar. To my family, tradition was tradition, so an otherwise standard holiday was infused with the semblance of the lunar year festival mixed with a dash of Peruvian traditions.

My mother always purges the house on the last day of the year, cleaning and scrubbing each and every room. Then she walks around with what she calls her version of "holy water" (lightly scented perfume) and sprinkles it throughout the house muttering a series of prayers — in Spanish.

On New Year's Eve, Dec. 31, when the clock strikes twelve, my family and I gather beneath the dining room table, a list of wishes crumpled in one hand and a bag of 12 grapes in the other.

For every gong of the clock or bang on a pot by my drunken uncle, we eat a grape, shut our eyes and make a wishes for the new year — one for each month. I remember as a child watching the adults scoop black lentils into their mouths between grape-filled bites. Lentils signify money and the more you eat, the more money you're expected to have in the new year.

I'm not sure which part of the celebration hails from which side of my cultural background.

Come midnight, though, grapes, lentils, hugs, kisses and alcohol are thrown about in one big chaotic celebration.

But, what is often considered the best part of the celebration is the handing out of lei si — money.

The Chinese believe that starting off the year giving to others means that in return you will receive much in return. Decorative red envelopes are handed out by married couples to the unmarried, usually children. Inside the red envelope is money — anywhere from $5 to $100. To receive your envelope, you must say the phrase: kung hei san lee lei si fat choi that roughly translates into "May you have a happy and prosperous new year."

I always thought our eclectic celebration and combination of cultures was odd. But I spent every year ringing in the new year with my family — in our own way — and loved it nonetheless.

We celebrate the lunar new year on a different date, honoring some Chinese traditions and mixing in a little of our own.

My grandmother called me this morning at 8 a.m. to wish me a prosperous new year and remind me that this is my year as it is the year of the dragon. According to the Chinese zodiac, those born in 1988 are the sign of the dragon.

I didn't spend New Year's with my family this year for the first time in 23 years. I spent it in Times Square, with a bag of grapes in my purse, a list of wishes on my iPhone — making traditions of my own.

So, if you haven't had the best start to the year so far, the good thing about the Chinese new year is you get another chance to start anew.

Happy Lunar New Year.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

L. Klonsky January 25, 2012 at 06:13 PM
Karen - I love how multicultural your family is and how they incorporate different traditions into this celebration. I am THRILLED that my daughter is proud of her Chinese heritage! She beams with pride at Chinese celebrations and understands that she is part of a rich culture. My son, who is not Chinese, turned to his sister the other day as we celebrated and said, "It's because of you that we get to celebrate this wonderful holiday!" My daughter looked up at him, her eyes shining, and said, "It's so cool to be Chinese." Happy New Year To All!
Sharon Adarlo January 25, 2012 at 10:07 PM
Very interesting column!
Elizabeth Moore January 26, 2012 at 11:09 PM
Karen this was lovely! What a thoughtful and well-written story. Thanks for sharing. I want to do the grapes and gong next year after reading this.
Shelley Emling January 26, 2012 at 11:26 PM
That was really nice Karen.. enjoyed it!

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