Celebrating Chinese New Year Traditions with Toddlers


In my bicultural family, we welcome the new year twice:  once at the end of the calendar year on December 31 to honor my Filipino roots and once at the end of the Lunar calendar year to honor my husband’s Chinese roots. For me, New Year’s centers around family reunions, devouring beloved dishes like my Lola Sally’s callos (tripe stew) and my mama’s roast beef, dressing up in new outfits and placing coins in my pockets for good luck.

Chinese New Year was not a holiday I was familiar with until after I met my husband. After we started dating, we began to celebrate both new years’ holidays. In many ways, the two holidays are similar, because they both focus on family, eating heirloom dishes, and wearing new clothes. Nevertheless, Chinese New Year has its own unique traditions, like red envelopes, the Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner, and the gifting of sweets to the family. Here is how we incorporate Chinese New Year’s traditions with our toddler daughter Ilse.

Red Envelopes

Red envelopes are filled with money, usually new bills, and given to children and single people. The envelopes symbolize prosperity and happiness; their red color denotes good luck. When Ilse was a baby, our family gave us her red envelopes so she wouldn’t try to eat them. Now that she’s older, she accepts them herself and places them in her purse.

Chinese New Year Eve Meal

The Chinese New Year’s Eve meal is meant to be spent with family because it’s the last meal of the year. This meal can be celebrated at home or at a restaurant, and it’s special because we dress up in new (red) clothes for the occasion, even if we are having the meal at home. Usually, we celebrate with my husband’s family, and dinner always includes soup, fish, vegetables, rice, noodles (a symbol for long life), and sweets. Ilse eats with us at the table on her own chair. We place a little bit of all the dishes in her bowl, cutting them into bite-size pieces, so she can try them.

Giving Sweets to Family

The last aspect of this special holiday is the gifting of sweets to family. Prior to the Chinese New Year Eve’s meal, we shop for sweet treats to give to our families on Chinese New Year’s Day. Giving sweets is symbolic of wishing someone a “sweet life” for the new year. Our favorite place to shop for treats is a tiny shop in our Japantown neighborhood. This year, we will let Ilse help us select the treats to give.

Having two new year celebrations are just a few of our family’s traditions. We honor both with all the cultural rituals that are essential to each holiday. We read about these rituals in books like My First Tagalog Book of Words and Bringing in the New Year.  We also encourage Ilse to participate in the festivities, like helping us select sweets to give or pick out a new dress to wear for the occasion. Just as we wish you “Happy New Year” on December 31, we wish you “Gong Hey Fat Choy” this Chinese New Year!


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Jeanne is a married, full-time working mom with an MBA in Marketing from Golden Gate University and BA in Communications from San Francisco State University. She is an Associate Director of Sales for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants and loves that her career enables her to promote the city she loves. Jeanne and her husband Daniel live in San Francisco with their two daughters, Ilse and Alice. When Jeanne is not working, writing, or volunteering at Ilse's school, she enjoys traveling, spending time with family, and cooking from her collection of cookbooks (70 and growing) while sipping Hudson Bay Bourbon. Follow her adventures on Instagram.


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