Originally published here at The Odyssey on February 8th, 2016.
It was the day before New Year's Eve. I could tell that the windows had been rubbed clean with stale newspapers and a little too much Windex. The distinct fake citrus of hardwood floor polish lingered, even though it had been hours since the Swiffer had been out. Soon after, that biting scent of chemicals was easily overpowered by a sweet, fresh aroma. The fragrant citrus of pomelo leaves boiling on the stove seemed to swell and envelop our entire two-story house, warding away any malevolent spirits.
And then it was New Year's Eve. Fingers hastily tugged hard plastic clothing tags off of a soft new shirt. I ran my hands through my hair, still surprised when fingers reached an abrupt end at my shoulders. Freshly cut strands brushed the back of my neck. Waiting at my grandmother's door, my hands started to sting. Heated palms and prickling fingers fought to hold the handles of the red plastic bags I carried, full of hospitality -- oranges and biscuits. Walking in through the door, I was met with warm embrace after embrace. With each hug, my relieved hands gratefully accepted the crisp touch of red envelopes, good luck being passed on from older generations.
I snacked on dried, chewy coconut strips and bit into a homemade fried sweet dumpling, filled with peanuts and sugar. During dinner, my taste buds are met with our traditional dishes: vegetables and mushrooms soaked in oyster sauce, pork with fat choy, takeout fried rice noodles (classic), crispy egg rolls, fresh fish topped with green onions and soy sauce, all complete with warm white rice. There is a choice of a savory radish cake or a slimy sweet brown rice cake at the end.
After dinner, my cousins and I walk the streets of Chinatown to the beat of a deep drum, listening for the bang of firecrackers and incessant clanging of cymbals. The loud sound of snappers filled the air, of kids throwing tiny poppers "bang snaps" at the streets, screaming with laughter when one was aimed too close. Older relatives chanted in a sing-song voice, "Mai lan, mai lan, mai lan," putting the laziness of their grandchildren up for sale for the new year, "Mai doh lin, sam sup man."
The night was filled with vibrant red and flashes of gold. There were red good luck scrolls, red envelopes, red firecracker confetti littered the streets. Lion dancers jingled and shimmered, greeting the businesses and wishing people good fortune and health. I looked around me. Grandparents held the hands of their grandchildren, parents laughed at their children goofing off, everywhere I looked was family. This is my American Chinese New Year.