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Adoption Blog: The Yin and the Yang

Our Untraditional Cultural Celebrations Honor Our Unconventional Family

The Thursday morning of Chinese New Year 2011, our daughter, Hanna, who was adopted from China, wakes up early and excited. She has set out a selection of silk Chinese outfits to wear to school. Her first-grade class is celebrating in some way. "Are you sure you are allowed to wear this today?" I ask, hesitant to break uniform policy but also concerned Hanna may be the only one who dresses up for today's occasion.

"Oh, yes," she says. "My teacher said so."

There's no talking Hanna out of an outfit, so I help her dress in the purple silk pants and shirt. Next, we go into the playroom and gather some of her favorite Chinese things: a book, a musical toy, Chinese artwork, and her tiny red silk shoes. Sitting with all the items piled on her lap, Hanna squeals, "I am so lucky I was born in China!"

I am happy to hear Hanna feels this way. When her father and I were in the process of adopting Hanna from China, we learned about the importance of keeping a child's birth culture alive—for her to feel connected to the place she was born and to have a positive sense of identity—in a multicultural family. So I try to create cultural experiences of China for Hanna.

Often, my well-meant attempts end up less than cultural and far from traditional. Last year, we made moon cakes, more like moon rocks, but sweet. One year, Hanna and her sister dressed in traditional Chinese clothing and danced around to an Indigo Girls CD. Our Chinese New Year celebrations never really go as planned.

This year, The Year of the Rabbit, our family had planned to go to a local Chinese New Year celebration on the Sunday before. We would eat traditional Chinese food, watch the traditional lion dancers, and learn about Chinese traditions. As luck would have it, I woke up the day of the event with a fever of 102, and tradition went out the window.

Hanna is nothing if not adaptable. On this first day of Chinese New Year, she dresses for the occasion. Yes, she is the only child in her whole elementary school dressed in Chinese clothes. Undeterred, she walks proudly into class and shares her bag of Chinese treasures. I worry that her excitement may come crashing down, that the other kids will tease her, and her joy and pride will turn to embarrassment, or worse. Not today. Hanna bounds out of school in the afternoon excited as ever.

After school, Hanna and I go to the craft store for supplies. We decorate the kitchen table in red and white, fill colorful Chinese takeout boxes with chocolate coins and place one at each seat, and sprinkle the table with plastic hearts. Hanna's friends join us and all the kids make Chinese lanterns out of red construction paper, which we hang around the kitchen. It's a sort of Chinese New Year and Valentine's Day celebration in one.

Later, we eat Chinese food and practice our best "Gung Hay Fat Choy" (a loose translation of "Happy New Year") on the Chinese deliveryman. I forget about the CD of Chinese songs I bought earlier in the week, so we end up eating egg foo yung to a mishmash of American pop music.

Once again, our Chinese New Year celebration has turned out a little cockeyed. Maybe that's just how it goes when you are an American and Chinese family mixed together. Our festivities end up a lot like we are, part this and part that. I would worry, but I don't for one reason. Our cultural experiences may not always be traditional, but they are true to purpose: Hanna is proud of who she is and where she is from.

If you would like to learn more about "real" Chinese New Year history and traditions, I think this site is good.

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

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Stacy, I really enjoyed your post.  It was very genuine and true to life, as well as funny.  This is totally how my attempts at celebrating would go!  (Loved the part about how you forgot about the Chinese CD, I can sooo relate) 

My son is from Russia and I would like to expose him to his culture, but find it difficult to find events and venues that are kid friendly.  We live in Florida too, by the way, and there aren’t festivals and things, that I know of.  There is an area on the east coast Hallandale/Sunny Isles that has a large Russian population, but what they have are mostly restaurants.  So I keep my eyes and ears open for something going on that we can do.


By Deb on Monday, February 14, 2011 at 10:14 pm.

I feel the same way about some of our Indian celebrations at our house. I’m sure we’d get some strange looks from other Indian families, but as you said, our celebrations resemble our families! Thanks for sharing!

By Jeff on Wednesday, February 16, 2011 at 3:22 am.

Glad I’m not the only one!

By Stacy Clark on Wednesday, February 16, 2011 at 4:44 pm.

My 8 year old had always dressed in a Chines outfit for school. I always ask if I can come in and read a Chinese New Year book to the class. We give out coloring pages, information on the new year, red envelopes, bookmarks and oranges to all the kids. Otanges for a sweet year. There are lots of web-sites for information.
The teachers enjoy it and so do the kids. My daughter always feels special because this is her holiday and she is the teacher for her class, for the day.
Most schools would welcome this, just ask ahead of time and ask about what you want to give out.
I also made sure they announced Gung Hay Fat Choy, Happy Chines New Year. My daughter actually got to do the morning announcements that day.

By best mom of 2 on Friday, February 18, 2011 at 6:37 pm.

That’s so cool!

By Stacy Clark on Friday, February 18, 2011 at 7:45 pm.

I really enjoyed your post Stacy!
I have to laugh because last year for CNY we had a simple celebration…my daughter was not quite 3 and our FCC didn’t have any type of party..
We decided to go to a local Chinese restaurant (well about 30 min. away) that had the dragon dancing and drumming. My husband and I, along with our 2 kids and Nana and Papa, went for a dim sum lunch..

It was a really nice time, dtr did not want to wear traditional chinese outfit (she has yet to wear one, I think it feels very constricting for her, even the 2 piece) but was a bit overwhelmed by the noise of the drumming and size of the dragon.
this year she specifically asked not to see the dragon “too scary” so we skipped that.
we did go to our first FCC celebration and I tried, in vain ,to have her wear one of her outfits from China. Being more of a tomboy, she said “too fancy, ” and then when I pointed out that these lovely outfits were from China, “too Chinese.” so I brought out another dress, not from china , but soft organic red dress with an Asian like feel to it…birds and branches all over it.

She was so excited, pulled it on, pulled on her Kai-lan necklace and other necklaces and happily wore it through the whole CNY celebration.
She was one of the few girls not in traditional dress, but she looked beautiful and was comfortable in her outfit..
We had a lovely celebration!!

I am pretty flexible with all of this stuff, it depends on each kid, but we do bring out daughter up to be proud of China and her heritage…that is the important thing..

By haomom on Thursday, February 24, 2011 at 8:07 pm.

I got to laugh, too! Thanks haomom.

By Stacy Clark on Friday, February 25, 2011 at 5:10 pm.

its awesome i like it

By Halloween on Monday, September 23, 2019 at 4:16 am.

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Stacy Clark

Stacy Clark


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