Why we celebrate the Lunar New Year

Lunar New Year began February 1 and concludes 15 days later. My grandmother was born and raised in Shanghai. She attended a British boarding school. Raising a biracial family in the United States in the 1950s brought its challenges and the goal of the time was assimilation. We were not culturally Chinese, except on those days when we went to Chinese restaurants. Then we knew to eat family style; and when we poured our green tea, we took it plainly, no cream or sugar added. And once a year, there was talk of Chinese New Year, and a question of whether or not to travel to Oakland, San Francisco, or San Jose to celebrate it.

We did one year, but not again. Still, there was talk of it.

Bringing the new year in

Chinese New Year decorations

Three or four years ago, we began to observe the Lunar New Year in our home as a way to celebrate my grandmother and offer her the gift of something old and familiar, though naturally in a distinctly Chinese-American way. I learned more of the traditions from storybooks and educational books than from the source, but the heart of it is one we can all understand.

At the heart of the Lunar New Year is a reunion.

Family comes together. Lucky money is given to youngsters enclosed in bright red envelopes, decorated with gold lettering. The feast is spread with symbolic foods. Wishes of a happy and fortunate new year are shared. I wear the jade necklace my mother gave me and the gold earrings my grandmother gave me in the days when I invited myself to stay the night at her house in Modesto, rather than drive home between work shifts. We ate and watched old movies. She told me about the old days in China, the days of employment and dances, the days of office work and flirtations, the days of the war, the days of leaving home and the strangely new and foreign days with an unfamiliar Greek-German family in the United States.

Chinese New Year joins a list of celebrations in our house, one more festivity for my children to anticipate, prepare for, and delight in. There may be children of mine who hold little connection to that Chinese heritage. There may be children of mine who have few, if any, memories of the woman for whom we began these celebrations. But they will know we celebrate. They may ask why we celebrate.

And when they do, their older brothers and sisters will tell them the story:

“Mommy’s grandmother was from China. She came here when the Communists took over. She married an American and all the Americans had to get out. The rest of her family had to stay behind.”

The week and a half before Lunar New Year, there were so many interruptions, so many commitments, so many important meetings and visits, and so many responsibilities.

“I thought you might cancel”

my mother said when we gathered that night.

My children sat around the table as their great-grandmother coached them on how to use chopsticks. After she wrote out the Chinese words for “Happy New Year” phonetically (“gung hai phat choy”), I asked her to teach us to count in Cantonese. She counted briskly three times and then moved on.

We ate recipes new and old, homemade, from the frozen aisle, and taken-out from Hughson Asian Kitchen. The imperfections did not matter.

Chinese Almond Cookies

At the heart of it was the thing mattered.

A new year full of hope.

An old year capped with gratitude.

In the center of it all



Gung hay fat choy 

wishing you great happiness and prosperity

Happy New Year!

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

The Casey Family’s Love of Fall Traditions

I spend a good deal of time discussing the importance of savoring the moment, the season. There no greater time than Autumn for this in my family. We create environment, educational activities, food favorites, family festivities, and add our own Catholic spin by accessing the old traditions.

Environment Full of Fall

Living room with golden yellow walls and banner reading beautus autumnum, Latin for Blessed Fall

The environment of one’s home affects well-being for people in different ways. The decor of my home is a place to rest mine eye, to pause, breathe, and find delight in the every day moments as they go by.

A few years ago I took a yard or two of orange fabric, cut into rectangles and with graphite paper traced festive lettering onto the fabric to spell the words, “Beatus Autumnum.” This means “blessed autumn.” With a hot glue gun I affixed the rectangles to kitchen twine. Its appearance marks the beginning of fall in our home. With pumpkins, a piece of Halloween art by Patricia Palermino and autumnal colored throws to the living room the scene is complete. The emergence of seasonal decorating adds to the anticipation of things to come and sends the message: there is a change here.

shirts and onesie for kids that read Blessed Autumnum, Latin for Blessed Fall
Custom made shirts by Melissa

Fall Education Activities

This is my first year fully engaged with the homeschool process. Whether in school or homeschool the opportunities seem limitless. There countless are songs, coloring, crafts and storybooks, set to the seasons. This year we are singing a German Folk Song, “Autumn leaves are a-falling.”

Kids with their dad carving pumpkins

Favorite Fall Foods

Human beings have elaborate practices created around the preparation and consumption of food. We have our favorite flavor seen in every food and spice since Starbucks debuted it in latte form in 2003.

While the world around us raves for pumpkin spice we fall in line as my husband adds pumpkin pie spices to my morning home-brewed latte. When Trader Joe’s brings in their fall favorites, we purchase spiced apple cider and butternut squash. The squash becomes soup. Acorn squash may be churned to homemade ice cream. In fall, more than other seasons it is easier to find those special recipes that are had only at that time of year.

Family festivities abound. Pumpkin picking (or buying) and carving, in the past running our own little roadside pumpkin stand (to resume next year, we hope), buying granny smith apples from my parent’s neighbor, planning Halloween costumes, an Oktoberfest gathering, and watching films like “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” are things we look forward to each year. Traditions, however simple, become rituals that one can rely on, stability in an unstable world.

table setting with lemons, pumpkins and fall foliage

Fall’s Catholic Spin

To all this, there is the Catholic spin. I love the religion to which I belong in part because of her many traditions. Some families are rediscovering the old ones, still practiced in other countries but largely forgotten here, such as Michaelmas (September 29) to mark the change of season.

My family leans heavily into All Saints Day, the second day of a triptych of days inviting us to focus on the last things. In this vein, Halloween is not so much about making ourselves afraid, but reminding us who we have to fear and that death was conquered. All Saints Day (November 1) turns that focus towards the reward of a life well-lived. All Souls Day (Dia de los Muertos, November 2) implores us remember those still striving and to pray for our beloved dead. Further explanation goes beyond this post, but these beliefs allow my family to lean in instead of reject the surrounding culture, and engage it in a way not contrary to our faith.

Painting of Danse Macabre 2, a medieval theme set in fall months
Danse Macabre 2 (Koper Regional Museum)

From trick-or-treating to setting a place of remembrance, these are high holy days for our family, and a crown leading us to the month of Thanksgiving.

What are your favorite fall traditions?

The Making of Traditions

A throwback a couple weeks ago to Thanksgiving but still fit the current season.

Previously Published in the Hughson Chronicle_Denair Dispatch.


All afternoon we newlyweds danced around singing, “the bird, bird, bird, the bird is the word.” When the time came, in a 5×8 foot kitchen we carved our first turkey. There was no room to serve the food, so we washed pots and pans trying to create space for the meal. By the time we and our guests, our family-less friends in the DC area, sat down to eat, the food was cold. No one acted disappointed. We were glad to be together.

As a child, Thanksgiving boasted of a turkey and a ham, and before pumpkin spice was the ubiquitous sign of fall in Northern California, my mother was already cranking out pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheesecake and pumpkin bars in mass quantities for our Thanksgiving celebration. Friday morning was spent lounging with coupons spread all over the table as the men planned their game of which hot item to go after. Only two of them cared, but everyone was in it to win.

I should have known how different Thanksgiving would look for me as a married woman when I spent Thanksgiving night counting the minutes between abdominal pains, and by 4 a.m. knew I would not be shopping that Friday. Instead, my son would be born.

There are traditions as a child I recall sprinkled throughout my youth. In late childhood and adolescence, I began to see those traditions fade into the background. I ached to hold onto them and argued that, “it must continue!” I thought we were giving up on something to let them loose.

Now that I am older, I have the broader perspective that gives the thirty-something-year-old the advantage over the fourteen-year-old. Traditions must change and adapt if they are to continue. Rare, and priceless, is the family, who can hold spaghetti night every Sunday for decades, and continue even after the matriarch has passed. As one generation goes to rest and another emerges, traditions must exhibit flexibility to accommodate the newest and most demanding members of the family.

Due to an increasing number of those little members, and a decreasing desire to uproot them to visit relatives who have no need for childproofing, we began to celebrate Thanksgiving at home. It is my nature to invite everyone. It is my nature to roll up my sleeves and make the sacrifices we need in order to honor tradition. With a batch of little ones in the house, I had to say no to my nature.

We purchase a small turkey and keep the side dishes to the essentials. We move our television set to the living room and play “Miracle on 34th Street” so the kitchen will be a place of peace rather than an extension of the chaos a beautiful, busy, bunch of children produce. We eat and share the things we are grateful for from the last year. After dinner, we finish the movie and put the kids to bed.

On Friday morning, I remember the fun of riding around with my aunt and mother while we shopped all day in Redding and ate lunch at a Chinese restaurant.

With the ever-earlier release of ads and disappointing deals, my Black Friday focus shifted from commentary on commercialism and marketing to an unrivaled excitement over Small Business Saturday and Mod Shop, a handmade night market in Downtown Modesto. Whether I spend money or not, the experience of going through the crowds to see pieces of art and craft sold by their makers has become a tradition for me.

As a young family, we continue to develop our traditions. At the heart of a tradition is a belief in something timeless, allowing annual routines to take on meaning as simple as, “it’s what we always do.” Those traditions become road markers throughout the year, “I can’t believe it’s Thanksgiving already!” Their repetition facilitates children’s memory of what took place before they were much aware of the world outside their home, “we used to always play Mario Cart.”

Our practices, and therefore traditions, must be different because our needs are different. We will add or delete based on what we want to communicate about this holiday, gratitude or gluttony. In the midst of the occasional kitchen chaos or soupy cranberry sauce, do I communicate with my mood that this day is a blessing or a curse?

Tradition-making is a tall order. The good news is, like parenting and life itself, our success or failure does not come from one moment, but from a thousand moments woven together where even the “failures” contribute to the joy of the overall design. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.