Chinese New Year 2013

This weekend I held my very first family holiday meal ~ a Chinese New Year feast.

I know this might come as a shock to some of you.

Please sit down.

Sit your coffee down so you don’t spill.

Here goes…

I am not Chinese. Or Asian for that matter.

I know, total shocker!

So how does country loving Okie, whose only Asian relative is a toddler go about hosting a Chinese New Year dinner? Friends, books, the internet and catering…that is how! Our immediate family celebrated last year, but this year we wanted to start a family tradition of hosting a big holiday meal at our home for extended family. I probably will never be able to celebrate the holiday and all its traditions in a ‘true’ way. I’m figuring out things as I go. Making mistakes. Learning new things. And just trying.

Our youngest daughter is Chinese and American. After talking to many adults that were adopted internationally as children I have picked up on a few things – everyone is SO DIFFERENT! Some have shared with me that they really don’t have any desire to hold on to the culture of their birth land. Others have expressed how important it is for them to be able to know and understand the culture, traditions and language of the country they were born in. Honestly, it is a huge hot debate for many and I have no desire to get in on all that. I have no idea how Little One will feel. That is her decision. Whatever she chooses won’t be right or wrong – it will be what is right for her. We will support that. However, I also know that it will be much harder to just suddenly start integrating Chinese traditions into our home if we wait until she is old enough to express a desire for that. So, we are starting now. We’ll follow her lead as she grows, but I sure hope she decides to embrace the beauty of what it means to be born in China.

I hope getting red envelopes with money for Chinese New Year will be just as much a part of our family holidays as eating turkey on Thanksgiving.Β  I’ve got a lot to learn and I am sure I will call things by the wrong name or do something the wrong way and some of you will notice. Correct me gently. Help me learn!

Our Chinese New Year celebrations will look a bit different than most. They are a melting pot of our family and that just won’t look like what it does on the other side of the globe. I’m okay with that.

Grandma (Chris’ mom) got the girls new clothes to celebrate

Nana (my mom) and the boys worked weeks to surprise us with a “Snake Dance”. Taking off of the traditional lion dance, they created a paper mache snake (it is the year of the snake) and danced under it. They told me their plan is to create a new one each year. Next year it is the year of the Horse – they are already planning. We passed out Hong Bao (red envelopes), talked about the meanings for using the color red, having oranges around, long noodles, dumplings, etc.

And before we dug into our delicious meal, we took time to thank God for the beautiful gift of family. For 5 healthy children. For having our daughter home celebrating with us this year. For lives rich in the things money can’t buy. And we ate!

The kids got new clothes for a new year. I am guessing flip flops and superhero t-shirts are not the traditional clothes given, but the kids sure liked the idea. My mom made Little One a new doll just in time for the new lunar year too.

As far as I know, this was the first time Little One has worn something like this.Β  FireCracker was so excited. It think the rainboots make the outfit πŸ™‚

So…I have a question for my Chinese friends – FireCracker’s is pink, so I assume it is for girls. However, Little One’s is red – do boys and girls wear this? Someone said they were pajamas. Someone else told me they are everyday clothes. Just curious…

Whatever the case, the girls loved them and looked mighty cute.

Happy Chinese New Year

Gong Hey Fat Choy (Cantonese for Happy Chinese New Year)

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  • Geneva - Ashley, it is so beautiful how your family is embracing Chinese culture. God has blessed you and us readers abundantly with your sweet little girl.

  • Elaine - Your family is just amazing! Happy New Year, and may the Year of the Snake bring you much laughter and happiness.

  • Sharon @ Discovering Blog - Fabulous! My uncle married a woman from Beijing about 10 years ago, and I’ve learned so much about China through her. She goes home to China every year at this time for a few months. They celebrate the New Year like we celebrate Christmas – it’s a HUGE holiday.
    She brought my son back some Chinese character flash cards that I’d like to send to your kids, since you are studying the language. I’ll email you and you can let me know where to send them, if you’d like. I have loved reading about your journey, and discovered your blog when you were in China, via a link from Design Mom.
    Here’s a link of my son using the cards, but he has lost interest, so I don’t want them to go to waste :

  • Robyn - Ashley, this looks so happy and fun! Good for you and ALL your family! Happy New Year!

  • Caroline - Hey Ashley, Your girls definitely look so cute in those traditional clothes!
    now, with the world being so modern now, even the chinese dont wear traditional costumes everyday.
    what your girls are wearing now is perfectly okay!
    pink is of course a girl’s colour, but red is good for both gender.
    however, the design that they are wearing is more of a girl’s design. Look at the buttons that’s sightly towards the side and the curved side cutting at the bottom. boys’ designs usually has the buttons in the middle like a normal shirt, and the side is straight cut. i’m not good at describing clothes but i hope you get what i meant. for girls, there’s also the dress but i guess this is good for kids, especially when they are always running around! πŸ™‚
    drop me any questions regarding the chinese culture and tradition, i’m all ready to share! πŸ™‚
    Love what you are doing! πŸ˜€

  • Lynne Malan - We are celebrating our first chinese new year in kuala lumpur. We moved here about 9 months ago from South Africa.

    As far as we can gather, chinese new year is huge!!! things we have noticed are:

    1. clementines are huge too.. they say if you receive clementines/oranges as a gift, you will have good luck for a long time. the more you receive, the more luck you will have.

    2. many chinese people have 2 little orange trees, with little oranges, besides their front doors – i guess for good luck.

    3. they hang big, red lanterns outside their homes (for decorations) and huge red pieces of cloth around the entrance of their front door.

    4. they put the red envelopes in little trees in front of their gardens and the children ‘pick’ it from the tree.

    Part of their tradition is the lion dance, which is really amazing and one can see even when the adults touch the lion they have that same childlike wonder for the prosperity associated with the lion. During the lion dance the lion throws clementines to the audience.

    Also, the children get red envelopes until they get married one day πŸ™‚

    the chinese new year is as much a family get together, that gets celebrated with food – eating and drinking and family being together.

    i will take photos of the houses around here where we live and send them to you. Maybe you can get more ideas to use next year.

    Also, during chinese new year you are not allowed to wear only white or only black. (bad luck). everyone dress in traditional chinese clothes (like your daughters) or red clothes. everything here is truly bright and beautiful!

    I will get the photos. Let me know if you would want me to buy some lanterns for you for next year… they are easy to get and i think quite cheap too.

    I thnk the traditions that our children learn to love are those they grow up with, that was time spent together with family who love each other and know how to bring joy to the table (and hearts)! xx

  • Misty - This is all kinds of awesome, Ashley! Little One looks beautiful in red, and it’s great to see Firecracker adding her own flare to her pink ensemble πŸ™‚ Your girls are such a blessing!

  • Cate O'Malley - Looks like a fabulous night! We also celebrate Chinese New Year. We are also not Chinese. My Mom started it years ago (don’t recall the impetus), and I started incorporating in my own family about 5 years ago. I love being able to expose my children to different cultures and celebrations, and that’s why I continue it.

  • Jenny - This post just makes me smile. πŸ™‚ i hope so much to celebrate this holiday
    in China one day. Your girls look so precious and i love that your boys
    Made the snake!

  • Lennie - Wow! Looks amazing! What a wonderful tradition to begin for your family.

  • Amanda - I love that you are celebrating! My dad’s family is Cantonese, so we’ve grown up celebrating Chinese New Year and I think red envelopes are exciting no matter how old you are or where you’re from. Another tradition that was always present at our celebrations was having the grandkids serve tea to the adults after the meal as a sign of respect and gratitude (it’s also just fun to feel so “grown up” when you’re little). I’m sure Little One and her brothers and sister will love whatever traditions you create for them, you all are so very blessed!

  • Janine - The girls look so cute in their outfits. I love that you are bringing new traditions into your family and celebrating Chinese New Year. I do know from a friend that the money you get in the red envelopes is not to be spent for a whole year. At least that was her family’s tradition. I hope you had some firecrackers or noise makers. I grew up with a sweet old Chinese couple in the house behind mine. They barely spoke english. Every year in the dead of winter I would be woken up by fireworks. They only lit a few but it was enough. I would smile say Happy New Year to myself and go back to sleep. The noise is supposed to ward off evil spirits for the upcoming year.

  • Lila - i just love your journey.. so happy saw the celebration…
    Gong Xie Fat Cai

  • Julie Jones - I love the way Little One’s eyes light up now. They are filled with joy!! I think that what you capture most beautifully, is the emotion in her eyes. The first few pics you shared of her there was a deep sadness in her eyes and now there is happiness! I love your new traditions and I love that you are never afraid to be who you are and to make mistakes along the way. Happy New Year!

  • Stoich91 - Really. I love you. I love your kids. I love your whole family is just adorable excuse me while I find my brain I think it exploded from adorbs…

  • bopha - It looked perfect! The snake dance was awesome, such a cool idea. Traditional or not, it’s perfect for the Campbells πŸ™‚

  • Susan - AA, Looks like another fun time was had. More photos please and tell us what you had to eat!
    Love your family tales!

  • tara - love it!

  • Midwest Magnolia - Melissa Lewis - So touched by this!

  • Amanda - I’m tearing up over how beautiful your heart is. What a wonderful tradition for your family!!!

  • Rebecca Alexis - Love this! I love the celebration and the happiness and the way you are honoring your sweet daughter’s cultural heritage. I have a brother and sister who are Korean and I wish we had celebrated the Lunar New Year (also known as the Chinese New Year) when we were younger. It would have been a more joyful way to understand where they were born before they became a part of our family. xxoo

  • Breanne - This is absolutely gorgeous!! We spent some time in China and throughout Asia when we were first married and loved it. This brings back good memories. I love the outfits on your girls!

    Where did you get the lanterns from?

  • Tonya - Oh dear! The two girls dressed up and the dragon….I just squilled with delight!!! Soooo cute!!!!

  • Miriam - My ex-sister-in-law is currently living with us. She is Asian but was adopted as a child by an African American couple. Yesterday, she gave me a red envelope for good luck and told me she is embracing her Asian heritage beginning with the Chinese New Year. She is 50 years old. I am excited to know that she wants to discover her heritage as she was not encouraged to do so as a child. =)

  • Liane - Wow. You are an amazing woman and mother. I love how you are bringing your daughters traditions into your home. She is one lucky little lady as is all your children! xx

  • tracy a - What a great time you guys had! I just love how much you are doing to help little one feel her roots…and how much space she will have in the future to decide. She is blessed to have the family she does!

  • Nilsa @ SoMi Speaks - My husband, son and I celebrated Chinese New Year by going to a local restaurant for dim sum (it was packed!). I actually thought of you and your family and wondered if you’d do anything to celebrate, which felt weird, because I am mostly a quiet follower of your blog. In any case, I love that you are embracing your youngest daughter’s origins until she decides otherwise. What a beautiful family you have!

  • Monica - Hi Ashley, Everything is amazing. I love how your girls look in chinesse clothes.They look just beatiful! πŸ™‚ Your party looks a lot of fun. With time you will lear more and more about thta tradition. For sure your Little One will be so happy that you did this just for her. You are amazing!. πŸ™‚ I went to China once for work. I remember about the red envelope for couples that are going to get married because one guy he was giving one red envelope to another coworker and he mentioned that was because he just got married and is a tradition to give them money in a red envelope. That is a good tradition. πŸ™‚ I bought some suvenirs from China and one was the red envelopes. LOL πŸ™‚

  • Monica - I forgot to mentioned . I love the little doll that your mom made for Little One. It’s so pretty. Now I know why you are so talented. πŸ™‚

  • Fei - I totally support your decision to expose your little one to Chinese culture and let her decide if it’s for her! Sounds like plenty of fun and new experiences for your family too πŸ™‚

  • Jen - Hi Ashley! I think you did a fabulous job creating a New Year’s celebration for your family and Little One! My husband is from Hong Kong and we enjoyed our own huge celebration this weekend with his extended family. I’ve found that just like we all have different traditions for celebrating Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc, there are just as many differences for family’s celebrating the Lunar New Year. My husband’s family waits until midnight to feast on dumplings, and we always have to eat noodles and turnip cake earlier in the day. Little One is truly blessed to be surrounded by such love. xo

  • Ashley - Love the doll, your mom should make/sell thesm – she’d make a fortune! Love how she incorporated the headband, soooo little ones personality. Cute! Firecracker is a hoot….

  • Sandy - Awesome! And I so love the doll your mom made. I want one!

  • Ashley - P.S. Selling the dolls could be a cool way to raise funds for love without boundaries…..I would be her first customer…..a little boy doll would be just as precious!

  • Michelle - This is so beautiful! As someone who grew up with a Singaporean Chinese mother and American father in China, I am familiar with celebrating holidays and festivals of different cultures. I loved the richness of it all.

    As for whether or not the clothes are pajamas- most Chinese don’t wear those clothes every day any more (but you would have seen that when you were there). The fashions have evolved a lot, but the fact that the buttons angle to the side and then go down would indicate that it’s a girl’s outfit– most men’s traditional clothes go straight up and down.

  • Ruth@GraceLaced - They aren’t really pajamas. They are just patterned after the traditional casual wear that Chinese people silk or cheaper fabrics. These days no one wears them out an about, but they use them for special occasions or events. I grew up wearing them to perform Chinese dances. πŸ™‚ Your girls look precious in them! And red is the general “lucky” color for Chinese, but it’s still traditionally worn by women. I so wish I could’ve been a part of your celebration! πŸ™‚

  • Melissa - no matter if she wants to hold onto her heritage or not as she gets older, you made her feel special and honored who she is! i get teary-eyed almost every time i read your posts, because i have two adopted kiddos and love seeing how God brings families together. i’m sure she will cherish all of the special things you do for her!

  • Barbara - I think it’s so wonderful what you are doing for Little one, and the whole family!! It’s really beautiful and you deserve such a wonderful family! The two girls all dressed up are adorable, and what a great snake!!!

  • Anna Joy - ChΓΊc m?ng n?m m?i! (Happy New Year in Vietnamese!) We celebrate the New Year by going to our grandma’s and stuffing our faces and getting our red envelopes too (even though we are probably wayyyyy too old for it). I am full Vietnamese but with the way I was raised, I can’t speak the language and don’t know all of my culture’s traditions. As an adult, I am relearning everything about where my family is from. A lot of my family are in interracial marriages like myself so it seems that our children are going to know even less than we did which makes me very sad! I love that you are embracing your Little One’s heritage and I encourage you to keep doing it. I bet you one day she will be very thankful that you did. πŸ™‚

  • Mary - what an amazing heritage you are giving Little One!
    this whole thing is just wonderful.
    so very wonderful.

  • Brooke - Ashley! I think its so special that you are creating these traditions. I don’t think you should care for a single second if you’re getting it “right”. I hope that no one criticizes because as you say it’s all learning. Besides, your intentions are so good and making traditions your own is what makes them special. None of us celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving the exact same way. I love that your whole family gets into it and the paper mache snake is amazing!

    It’s so lovely to see how Little One is just blossoming into a beautiful little girl!

  • Siew - Or Chunky Fat Boy as my brother says (being Chinese I feel its okay for me poke fun and say that!).

  • Seamingly Sarah - My close friend, Kristina, celebrates the Chinese New Year. The most I know about it through her is that cleaning the house is of upmost importance to her. Cleaning everything! Baseboards, grout, behind the fridge…you name it. And then decluttering as well. Ushering out all of the “unwanted” dirt and items will usher in the things she does want in the new year. And of course one year she came over to our house and we ordered Chinese take out and she explained what each item of food meant. Some represented luck, riches, etc…That about taps out my knowledge.

  • *laura* - love, love, love! xo *laura*

  • Susannah - This is a precious idea! I grew up in Taiwan so I’ve have many fond memories of Chinese New Year, especially the red envelope. πŸ˜‰

  • amy - Ashley, your mom is so talent. The doll is so pretty and so as the snake your kids made.
    Btw, “Gong Hey Fat Choy” means “wish you rich in wealth”.
    “xi nian kuai le” means “Happy New Year”

  • Angela - I love that you are giving her the gift of knowing her heritage. This is part of her foundation.

    And I love that you are also giving her the gift of choice, recognizing that she may not want to continue the tradition. That is a gift of love.

  • Georgia Davis - I use to teach about the Chinese New Year. We would research all the things that the Chinese have invented. We would create and fly kites. Super fun celebration.
    The girls look adorable!

  • Kate @ Songs Kate Sang - Oh, I love the rainboots – absolutely makes the outfit!

    A few years ago (ok, more than a few πŸ™‚ ) I was the Production Manager for a warehouse – many of my staff were Vietnamese, so the Chinese New Year celebrations were a huge part of our year.

    I can remember amazing Pho soup and wonderful red envelopes. The first year, they insisted that I take an envelope, even though I hadn’t brought any. I worked with such a sweet and generous group of people.

    Thank you for helping me take a trip down memory lane!

  • Jenny L. - Hi Ashley,
    I am a long-time reader of your blog. I tried to find an email on your site but could not find it. I have a Chinese friend who would love to correspond with you and answer any Chinese questions you might have. Just get in touch with me if you would like her email address. Your blog is one of the best parts of my day. Even though I always thought she was beautiful, little one’s new smile and cute face just slay me. Firecracker is also a big favorite of mine but your whole family is just precious.

  • Marie - Lovely tradition πŸ™‚
    the outfit the girls are wearing are not pijamas!!! they are “traditional” however you don’t see anybody wearing them on normal every day occasions…
    they look absolutely cute as can be πŸ™‚

  • yinyee - Ashley,
    Happy Chinese New Year!
    In the old days, Chinese ladies wore this kind of clothes. It was a style then, especially the buttons. Nowadays, some old ladies wear this as pajamas, just plain white cotton cloths. If you would like to have one, I can ship one for you.
    Yin Yee

  • Jennifer - Beautiful! It is so encouraging to see how adoptive families choose to celebrate. We adopted locally my goodness it has been 3 1/2 years ago; so we do not have cultural differences to celebrate, but we try to do it up big for “Gotcha Day”!

    I have been reading your blog since last spring and prayed and laughed and cried along with you on your journey. Considering you an unknown friend πŸ™‚

    God bless!

    (My beautiful sister who lives in Uganda is currently taking your photography class πŸ™‚

  • Victoria / Justice Pirate - aww the girls look beautiful in these outfits! I love the hello kitty boots haha.

    I have heard the same things from those who were adopted. I know a lot of Chinese girls that were adopted and they tend to really want to learn more about their culture and connect with it. I had a friend growing up who was born in South Korea and she had a really hard time accepting being adopted as she grew even though she had such a loving home, and eventually she met her birth mother but I think she needed to as she was in a “searching for herself” period. My brother dated a girl who was adopted from S. Korea as well and she was so upset about being given up by her birth parents that she just rebelled as much as she could against her loving adoptive parents. It is really sad to see. A friend of mine who was adopted from S. Korea said that she always felt like she was a part of her family (she’s the youngest of 5 children in her family) that she never felt unloved and never really even felt Korean. She even did Scottish dancing just like her siblings and loved it. She never cared to know her birth family and just loved her adopted family so much. She said she knew kids adopted who didn’t understand how she was so accepting of it, but Christ really gave her comfort and peace. I know a LOT of people who were adopted from various countries. It is always wonderful to hear or watch how they grow (and as a youth leader, I currently have 3 girls who were adopted from China, two are sisters. . not blood, but adopted at different times and are sisters in that way).

    Not sure if you have something like this, but one of my youth girls tells me that there were many girls from China adopted in the same time period from the same orphanage and every year the families travel from all across our country to meet-up and spend time together. They call each other their “China sisters”. She really loves keeping in touch with those girls and it is a nice way that they have bonded as they grow together. I mean, they are only 14 at this point in time, but I am really glad to listen to her stories about her “China sisters” and getting together with them. I don’t know if any of these precious people I know celebrate their own cultures and their celebrations with their families, but I think it is a really great thing to teach them about it. For me, I tend to want to create my own sense of culture according to God’s Word instead of living as my culture around me as a light in the darkness, but it has been really hard to unwind a lot of the things that were ingrained in my head and as something taught to our culture….I’ve had to strip it all off and start over again. I wonder if that is what a lot of adoptive children go through in a way though.

    Wow I rambled. Sorry.

  • Stephanie - i am THRILLED that you went through all the effort to celebrate Chinese New Year!!! you never cease to amaze me with your huge heart and what it truly means to be a mother. thank you for all the work you put into embracing her culture. i don’t know how you do it with so many kids around you, you did an amazing job πŸ™‚


  • Kelly - Have you ever bought/subscribed to Mary Engelbreit’s magazine? I remember in one issue there was an article about a Chinese New Year Party. Let me know if you want me to look through my issues and see which one it was. I would be happy to. Looks beautiful and like a lot of fun! Kelly

  • Kelli - Nicely done Ashley and as always thanks for sharing and allowing us a peek into the journey.

  • yujia - Hi Ashley πŸ™‚ I chanced upon your blog yesterday and I’ve been reading posts after posts! Thank you for your faithfulness and desire to share God’s love and grace with your family and those around you — it’s truly inspiring πŸ™‚

    I’m a Singaporean Chinese (we’re not part of China, but our ancestors were from China), and your celebration looks pretty much legit to me! πŸ™‚ The little blue and pink lanterns aren’t usually used at CNY though, that’s more for Mid-Autumn Festival (???), where we light the lanterns and go for a walk outside and eat mooncakes! The big red chinese lanterns are used to decorate during CNY; some even leave it throughout the year and replace them with new ones the following year πŸ™‚

    You can also make many different lanterns and other decorations like little fishes using the red packets — it’s a yearly DIY session πŸ™‚ A little google search will reveal much more πŸ™‚

    Thanks once again for writing! πŸ™‚

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    You are very thoughtfull! I am originally from Turkey and I came to US when I was 26 to learn English and I ended up doing a Ph.D. and marrying an American guy. Now we have 2 gorgeous kid and It is VERY important to me that they learn Turkish besides English. I would like them to learn the culture as well. So we go every summer to stay with my parents for a while. My daughter now, 3 know both English and Turkish. Her English is way more faboulus than her Turkish but it is OK. Well what I want to say is not many people are as understanding as you. Unfortunatelly some people dislike when I start talking her in Turkish in US. and they generally give a angry look. noone has ever said anything yet but still it is not a good feelin. So I want to congradulate you about being very much sensitive and giving your daughter an option.

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