My name is 周瑛 Ying Zhou-Rameseder. I was born and raised in the People’s Republic of China. This is the 15th Chinese New Year I have spent overseas. My family is highly international. My husband comes from Austria, and my children were born in America. At the end of 2015, we moved from Silicon Valley to The Hague.
With this multi-cultural background, we are celebrating a multitude of different holidays. Take winter holidays, for instance. My children get gifts from Sinterklaas, Santa Claus, Christkind (Christ Child) and their Chinese grandma. In order to solidify Chinese culture in this complex situation, we always make sure that we celebrate the Chinese New Year properly.
So what is Chinese New Year?
In China, the Chinese New Year is usually known as the Spring Festival. It is the most important festival in Chinese Culture, comparable with the importance of Christmas in Europe. The holiday lasts for 15 days, from the Lunar New Year’s Eve to the Lantern Festival. Many people are unaware that China is not the only country that celebrates Spring Festival. In fact, many people from different regions and countries worldwide celebrate it. These include Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, and others.
When the Chinese celebration is discussed here, people like to mention the dragon dance, the lion dance, dumplings, etc. However, China is a large and immensely diverse country with 687 cities and more than 1.4 billion people who celebrate in different ways in different regions. My hometown is in the Northeastern part of China and is often cold and snowy during the Chinese New Year. Therefore, I had actually never seen the dragon dance and the lion dance before moving to Europe. In contrast to those outdoor activities, making dumplings while watching TV is the preferable way to celebrate the New Year in the North. Speaking of dumplings, they are well known as a typical holiday food. Yet, many people from Southern China do not know how to make dumplings at all.
What are my favourite parts of the New Year celebration?
Making dumplings was one of my favourite activities when I was young. It is not only because of the deliciousness of the dumplings but also because of the fun while making them. Besides making regular dumplings, I often made them in interesting shapes, such as bunny dumplings, birdie dumplings, etc. Now my children also enjoy making dumplings with me. Their ideas are far more creative than mine were back then!
My other favourite part of Chinese New Year from my childhood is the Red Envelope (Hong Bao, 红包). In other cultures, Santa Claus or Sinterklaas gives out gifts. It is much more direct and simple in Chinese culture: red envelopes are gifted from the older generations to younger generations, usually to school-aged children. The red envelopes contain money called “money warding off old age” 压岁钱. Collecting red envelopes, counting the money inside, and then shopping with friends is a fond memory of every Chinese person.
Nowadays, there is also a contemporary interpretation of this old custom. In 2014, Chinese people started giving virtual red envelopes via the messaging app WeChat. Grabbing as many virtual red envelopes as possible in WeChat groups is a new must-do during Chinese New Year.
The Chinese Zodiac
The most popular topic during the Lunar New Year here is the Chinese zodiac (Shi Er Sheng Xiao, 十二生肖). It is a traditional classification scheme based on the lunar calendar that assigns an animal to each year in a repeating twelve-year cycle. The animals are Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake (also called Small Dragon), Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig. There are three interesting, fun facts about these animals.
How do I celebrate the Chinese New Year differently in the Netherlands?
In the Netherlands, we usually celebrate the New Year with other Chinese families, for instance, during playdates or by having dinner. But most importantly, we organise activities at school.
During the New Year, with the support of the teachers, many BSN parents of Chinese ethnicity spontaneously organise activities at school. Those are my favourite New Year moments! I get the chance to introduce a part of the Chinese culture to my children and their friends; and I also have learned about different traditions from other regions, such as Yusheng or Lo Sahng (鱼生or 捞生, a fun tradition in Southeast Asia). Finally, it is a great way to meet new families with similar cultural backgrounds.
The importance of the BSN Community
When we first joined the school in November 2016, three other Chinese families helped us immensely. After two months, our four families organised a huge Chinese New Year celebration in Foundation 1 together. That was the best New Year I have ever experienced! We all dressed in beautiful Chinese outfits, made dumplings, practised Chinese calligraphy, made paper cutting crafts, and did a dragon dance parade throughout the entire school! We celebrated like one big family!
Afterwards, the friendship among these four families grew even stronger. We really became a big Chinese family through the rest of the school year. Although the families are in different countries now, we still keep in close contact and often exchange ideas about what to do for the Chinese New Year at school.
The benefits of sharing my culture with the BSN
People often ask me how I have endless energy to organise the Chinese New Year activities at school. Indeed, it is exhausting but extremely rewarding at the same time. Every year, I get so much grateful feedback from other parents. They say that their children wanted to make dumplings at home, go to Chinatown to experience more of the culture, have Chinese pizza during pizza night, check the Chinese zodiac sign for every family member, and so forth.
Most importantly, my children are incredibly proud of their Chinese roots. Even at the beginning of the pandemic, the unfortunate spike in anti-Chinese sentiments did not influence my children and their friends. They always give a big thumbs up to their mother’s culture and hometown and say with a firm voice: 我是中国人！
Ying Zhou-Rameseder 周瑛
My name is Ying Zhou-Rameseder 周瑛. I was born and raised in Dalian, in the People’s Republic of China. In 2008, I emigrated to the United States, where I interned for the United Nations and earned two Master’s degrees, one from Harvard University’s Extension School in International Relations. My academic passion apparently influenced my husband as well, since our family moved from the Silicon Valley to Den Haag to work for an international organisation in 2015. Shortly after, we joined the BSN family.