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In the lunar calendar, which follows the moon instead of the sun, the new year begins on Friday. In China, this time of year is known as the Spring Festival Holiday, a joyful and hopeful time that Chinese people celebrate for days.
Typically, family members travel home to be together. Neighborhoods are covered in red decorations, including couplets, which are long red pieces of paper with handwritten wishes for the coming year. Children are given red envelopes filled with money. Most families watch famous Chinese singers and dancers perform in the Spring Festival Gala on TV, and some areas have brilliant fireworks shows.
For Liying Sun, who grew up in southern China, memories of Spring Festival are marked by delicious foods.
'It truly is like a banquet. It was remarkable as a kid,” said Sun, a visiting assistant professor of Chinese culture and history at the University of Iowa. 'No matter how modernized or traditional your family might be, for kids, food is really the deepest part of the memory.”
Sun remembers her mother spending days preparing their New Year's Eve feast. Their family's table would be filled with chicken, duck, pork, beef and fish dishes.
'The key is, you have a whole table you will never be able to finish,” she said. 'But that's the point.”
Some families eat certain dishes, like fish, in a way that tells a story. One old tradition encourages families not to finish eating fish until after midnight. Then, they have 'leftovers” in the very first hours of the new year - a symbol for a plentiful year ahead.
This year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sun expects families in China who are able to see each other will be especially grateful just to be together.
'There's a sense of forgetting all the pain, all the suffering happening in the last year, and entering a new era with hope, with good wishes, with blessings from your family and friends,” she said. 'If you can live a normal life, it's worth celebrating.”