With this year’s Lunar New Year’s Eve falling on a Saturday, my family and I spent the whole day getting ready. The morning was spent extensively cleaning the house and completing decorations. By the afternoon, every surface of the kitchen was occupied by food prepped for cooking. As the sun started to set, the table was set with a plentiful array of dishes and my mom stepped outside to invite our ancestors in.
Each family member lit incense in their honor, bowing after sending well wishes. This is an emotional tradition, as tears flow every year during conversations with the ancestors. We then enjoyed a meal consisting of a massive vegetable assortment, steamed fish, Hainan chicken, rice balls and soup. After substantially stuffing ourselves, my grandmother counted the assorted fake money that we would be sending up to our ancestors.
We started a fire in our backyard and burned stack after stack of money, finishing by pouring a circle of wine around the fire. After the more meaningful traditions, we proceeded to watch the festival performances on TV and eat lots of treats to end the night.
Some of my clearest memories of my younger childhood are of Lunar New Year. Shopping for qipaos in San Francisco Chinatown, coming home from school to cherry blossom arrangements from our tree, excitedly slipping my red envelopes under my pillow for good luck. I’ve always felt lucky to celebrate the holiday to the extent that my family does, and it’s more meaningful to me than any other. It not only emphasizes the importance of family, good fortune and food, but also ancestral connection. We connect with those who’ve come before us and that we’ve lost.
On Lunar New Year’s Eve, the Asian American community suffered a great loss in Monterey Park’s mass shooting that killed 11 people and injured nine. This joyful time meant for celebrating our beautiful heritage and connecting with community was taken away. The culture of violence in the United States is pervasive, and reaches every community in different ways. My family was shocked by the news, and it certainly put a damper on the spirit of the holiday. I’ve felt lots of frustration and some anxiety for the future. Coming together to grieve should not have to be how we begin our new year.
A version of this story aired on KCBS on January 29, 2023.