New Year’s Eve is the primary “family reunion” day. If you are a married female, you are expected to spend this day with your husband’s side of the family. On the second day of the new year wives will go spend time with their side of the family. Chinese new year celebrations actually last 15 days in total – ending with the Lantern Festival.
Today is also the day to remember your ancestor through “bai bai”. This is the offering of fruits and foods in front of an altar dedicated to the remembrance of ancestors and then a moment of “bai bai” where incense sticks are lit and given to family members. While holding an incense stick the family members bow in the direction of the altar and say prayers for their ancestors. I know there are religious connections to this, but I’m not sure exactly what they are. The family members on my mom’s side are a mix of extremely religious (and I can’t get anyone to tell me the English name of their religion – some type of Buddhism?) to not religious at all, but everyone participates to honor their deceased parents/grandparents. Afterwards the incense sticks are gathered and placed in front of the altar and when they have completely burned down to the end, the food placed in front of the altar can now be eaten by the family.
Later that night our family went out for dinner at a restaurant decorated with Taiwan antiques. I loved the atmosphere of the restaurant and my mom said it really looks the way Taiwan looked when she was growing up. It is designed so that you feel like you’re outdoors eating at banquet tables on the side of a street, the way weddings used to be celebrated if your family wasn’t wealthy.
And of course, the most anticipated part of Chinese New Year’s for a kid is the receiving of “hong bao”, red envelopes, from parents and relatives. The red envelopes contain money and I remember this part very well from when I was young. My grandfather used to give me a red envelope when my mom wasn’t around and tell me, “Don’t give this to your mother!”, because he knew all red envelopes are immediately collected by parents for “safekeeping”. I knew he wanted me to have spending cash so I could buy something I wanted, but he always gave an amount that was way too large for a small child to be carrying around. And I feared the wrath of my mom quite a bit so it always went straight to her.
Luckily for us, it was quite easy to put away Jennica’s money for safekeeping because at this age Jennica is only interested in the envelopes themselves.