The Year of the Dragon dawned last week. Not only the Chinese community, but many communities throughout the world always anticipate Chinese New Year. On Sunday 29th January, London’s Trafalgar Square filled with people waiting to see the colourful celebratory parade. But most people don’t wonder about the traditions during the preparations and festivities. I wanted to find out more about the different parts men and women play during this time. So I interviewed* four Chinese women and one man who told me about the female role at New Year.
First is the role of dutiful wife and daughter. While any member of the family can participate, females are usually responsible for making the feast for their loved ones to enjoy. The females of the household gather in the kitchen, helping one another to prepare the meal and catching up on family matters. There is also the tradition that on the third day of the New Year, married women are expected to go and visit their mothers. This symbolic gesture allows women to reunite with their family and shows a mark of respect for her birth family.
However, all the interviewees felt that there was one thing that most represented the spirit of the New Year—the willing for good luck and how females aid this. For instance, the women tidy the house in a sort of ‘ritualistic spring cleaning’ before the New Year. This is an old age custom done to scrub away any bad spirits and make the home inviting for good ones. Another tradition for luck and goodwill is that of the distribution of red envelopes - known as the Lei See - which contain money and are also believed to ward off evil spirits. They are given to the younger members of the family and women normally see to their distribution.
The symbolic nature of the colour red is also associated with women. For the older females, department stores also display a multitude of red outfits. This, I was told, is because during the New Year, friendly gambling games are played and the females would usually wear red underwear and clothes hoping that it would bring them more luck. Younger girls are usually dressed in traditional dress such as a cotton-padded jacket with their hair in pigtails.
It seems that the force that keeps Chinese New Year running smoothly is the women behind it. All of the interviewees agreed that men really don’t have a role in the celebrations, beyond perhaps saying a prayer at the temple and then enjoying the feast. Nonetheless, these women enjoy doing the tasks the do in order to keep the traditions alive and to fan the flame of enchantment.
*The interviewees were Catherine and Sophia Huynh, Helena Lee and Cathy Yip and William Lau.
Girl Museum Inc.
Natalie Moyanah, Chinese New Year, women’s roles, Chinese tradition