Firecrackers, gifts and celebration for Lunar New Year

Firecrackers, gifts and celebration for Lunar New Year

URBANA — Growing up in rural China, for Hua Nian, New Year's meant the first "bang!" of firecrackers at midnight, followed by days of adventure.

"Free from school, armed with leftover firecrackers, we kids would look for cow pies (preferably freshly made) to blow up," she says.

The Urbana artist has lived in the United States for 20 years, and over the years even forgot what day the holiday is.

This year, the Year of the Horse, the first day of the celebration was Friday.

Nian will be celebrating Saturday at a potluck with friends — in part because Urbana poet Gale Walden revived the tradition in her life.

Walden adopted her daughter from China. Six months old at that time, Zella Walden never learned to speak Chinese, but her mom encouraged her to learn about the culture.

"We did it at first at my house, with takeout food," Walden said. "Then Hua opened it up at her studio, and this year we're bringing homemade Chinese food. Zella has gone to the library for recipes."

The evening now also includes entertainment by the diners.

The lunar calendar will have its biggest local celebration Saturday with the 2014 Chinese New Year Banquet and Performance at the Illini Union. (Registration is already closed.)

Mary Mahaffey is the coordinator for the Visiting Asian Scholars Program at the University of Illinois, and a board member of Chinese American Association of Central Illinois.

"The biggest event of any Chinese New Year's Eve is the reunion dinner, named as Nian Ye Fan" in her part of China, Mahaffey said.

After dinner, she said some families go to local temples to pray for a prosperous new year.

"Elders will need to give Hong Bao, a red envelope with money inside, to the younger generation," Mahaffey said. Clothing that is red or another bright color is worn through the two weeks of New Year, she said.

Family portraits and dragon and lion dances are also commonly done during Chinese New Year, Mahaffey said.

In her Nian's rural town in southern China, parents would urge children to clean their rooms on New Year's Eve.

"But all my little brother and I cared about was that each of us got to wear new clothes to sleep through the night," she said.

Her mom had spent weeks sewing them by hand.

"And next day," Nian said, "we got to eat as much as we could of the once-a-year dumplings that we all helped make. We would see who could stay awake long enough to hear the first bang of the fire crackers at midnight, and couldn't wait for the day when we were old enough to be allowed to make the loud noises ourselves in the dark."

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