On Saturday we were sitting and eating egg rolls in a gym full of families who have adopted children from China. A decorative yellow lion costume was sitting on the stage several yards away from us, a kung fu artist was warming up as he pounded on a drum, and children were skipping around the room in their traditional Chinese silks.
And all of a sudden it hit me.
There was a time in my life when I didn’t even know when Chinese New Year was.
I couldn’t have told you that I was born in the Year of the Dragon.
I certainly couldn’t have offered mangled pronunciations of “Happy New Year” in Cantonese and Mandarin.
A little more than three years into motherhood—as mother to two sons who were born in China—I suddenly realize that I spend more time planning for Chinese New Year than I do for most holidays.
We put together lucky red envelopes to give to the children we’ll see during the two-week celebration of the Lunar New Year.
We bake. This year I made gummy “snake” cupcakes—after a failed attempt at gummy “snake” brownies. (FYI, gummy worms turn to liquid when placed on warm brownies.)
We get together with other friends who are celebrating the New Year.
We carry in scrumptious Chinese food from our favorite restaurant.
This year we found a few toy snakes in our house and wove them into our not-so-evergreen Christmas wreath.
My younger sister—who is invited partly because we love her and partly because she comes in the smashing dress we bought her in China—made the most beautiful, delicious strawberry shortsnake.
Then this weekend we went to the party thrown by our local Families with Children from China organization.
We met snakes.
Yes, real snakes.
The children got to set off pseudo-firecrackers by stomping on bubblewrap.
We fed the lion red envelopes full of money during the Lion Dance.
Our sons did Chinese crafts.
And we each opened a fortune cookie. This was mine.
American New Year? Yawn.
That’s just a good day to start counting down to Chinese New Year.
One day maybe we’ll integrate more of the other New Year customs I’ve read about—cleaning the house from top to bottom, buying everyone a new outfit, getting the boys fresh haircuts.
Yes, our celebrations fall short of being authentic. But what I hope is that our sons will enjoy themselves enough that they will want to learn more about Chinese culture as they get older.
For now we have a 5-year-old who can tell you he was born in the Year of the Pig and that his brother is an Ox. And we have a 3-year-old who can tell you how much he loves gummy snakes and how scared he was during the Lion Dance.
Of course, our celebrations for the Year of the Snake are still continuing. There’s still a dragon hanging from our dining room ceiling. And we have one more Chinese dinner with friends planned for next weekend.
We still have much to learn about this holiday. And, with two growing sons who have brought so much to our lives, we have even more to celebrate.
Xin Nian Kuai Le! Gung Hay Fat Choy!
How to make your own strawberry shortsnake
My sister first saw the idea for the strawberry shortsnake here.
She used this recipe for the cake.
My brother-in-law added powdered sugar to heavy whipping cream, and then they sweetened the sliced berries with powdered sugar.
Then my sister added chocolate chips for the eyes and an organic fruit chew for the tongue.
Or you could do what we did. Invite Aunt Treasa and Uncle George to come to dinner and ask them to bring dessert.