Celebrating the Most Important Holiday of the Year (Without Your Family)

Like other major holidays, spending time with family is a quintessential aspect of the Lunar New Year. What happens when you can't?


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When we think of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, we think of the gathering of family. We think of sharing our stories, struggles, and adventures over delicious meals. Like other major holidays, spending time with family is a quintessential aspect of the Lunar New Year. 

In China, even people who work far away from home return to their families for this one occasion. Chinese immigrants, however, are unable to celebrate the New Year with their family. For those who live in areas where Chinese communities are not particularly prevalent, it is even harder to maintain a sense of family gathering.

Yan Yan, a high school Chinese teacher in Massachusetts, immigrated to Philadelphia eight years ago. She came to the U.S. alone. Now, she is married and has a very young son. 

When I asked her what life was like in the U.S., she replied, “The closer I get to the Lunar New year, the more I feel that I don’t belong here… The fact that I have no other biologically related family in the U.S. makes it even worse.”

Yan has been unable to return to China for the Lunar New Year since she immigrated. Yet, she brings her son to many Lunar New Year celebrations in her area. At home, Yan makes sure to invite as many people as possible to emulate the celebrations she used to have in Beijing. 

Yan recollects her experiences in China: 

“We had 20 people in my grandfather’s house. Seriously! And we had to separate into several round tables so we could all eat. Otherwise, we couldn’t fit into that tiny space. We’d give hongbao to the younger generations. We’d buy new clothes before the special day, then wait until the first day of the New Year to wear it. I remember for many, many days, before the new year, I’d wear the new clothes in the mirror, to check myself out and imagine what it’d be like. I think it’s the sweetest memory you can have.”

Has globalization helped Yan and other Chinese people abroad retrieve the feeling of celebrating the Lunar New Year? Visually, the celebrations in the major cities of the U.S. are similar to those in China. New York, Los Angeles., the Bay Area, and even Boston have annual Lunar New Year Celebrations. 

Unfortunately, it might come close but it's not the same. When asked about how challenging it is to be away from her family during the New Year, and how she has adapted over time, Yan replies, “Very challenging. I don’t want to work… I watched a movie with my students yesterday… but I think it’s important to teach Chinese to students around the world. So there will be sacrifices here and there.”


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