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Local Chinese children ring in new year, and you can, too

Caption
(Danielle Guerra – dguerra@nwherald.com)
Fourth-grader Jade Bellairs (center), 9, passes around traditional bamboo hats to classmates Amanda Valdes-Garcia (right) and Angela Rathbone (left) to try on. Jade was adopted by Rick and Ellen Bellairs of Woodstock in 2001 from an orphanage in Xiangtan, China, when she was 10 months old. She joined the family after another daughter, Mallory, now 14 years old, was adopted by the Bellairs family in 1996, also from China.

If you’re reading this before a morning shower, don’t wash your hair. Doing so could wash away good luck, according to one of numerous traditions encompassing the Chinese New Year, which just so happens to be today.

Yes, it’s also Valentine’s Day. But that’s just a coincidence.

And to many area families, the Chinese New Year – the most important of all Chinese holidays – holds much more significance. Though not all follow every superstition of the celebration, they do see it as a way to honor and remain connected to their heritage.

For 9-year-old Jade Bellairs of Woodstock, it’s a day to get together with families similar to hers. Jade and her 14-year-old sister Mallory were adopted as infants from China by their parents, Rick and Ellen Bellairs.

The family for the past decade has hosted a Chinese New Year celebration at Plum Garden in McHenry.

To avoid the Valentine’s Day crowd, this year’s event will take place Feb. 21.

“I get to meet up with people who actually look like me,” said Jade, who along with her father, recently gave her Westwood Elementary School classmates a short history lesson on China and the New Year celebration.

“I’m like the only one from China in my class, so I know a lot more about China than other people, so it’s fun to come and share,” she said.

The Chinese New Year is based on the phases of the moon, so its date varies annually.

This year marks the Year of the Tiger, and those born in it are said to be unpredictable, rebellious, colorful, powerful, sincere and passionate, among numerous traits.

The 15-day celebration traditionally begins with an evening meal on New Year’s Eve.

The holiday symbolizes a time to clean house, settle debts, wear new clothes, get a haircut and do other things to welcome the new year, said Anita Andrew, an associate professor of history (Chinese) at Northern Illinois University.

The mother of two daughters adopted from China, Andrew also is an adviser to a chapter of Families with Children from China (www.fwcc.org).

“I can tell you that adoptive parents of Chinese children are very dedicated to teach their children about Chinese heritage,” she said. “This stems, at least in part, from what Chinese officials ask each parent to do at the time of a child’s adoption in China.”

Rick and Ellen Bellairs have been committed to keeping their daughters connected to their culture any way they can.

And they say they also enjoy reconnecting with other families and meeting those with newly adopted children from China.

Their celebration typically draws 15 families or so.

“It’s funny to see the girls,” Ellen Bellairs said. “In a matter of minutes, they’re like this group that goes off like best friends.”

Going through the adoption process is an emotional experience the families share.

“I’ve given birth to two kids,” said Ellen, who has two biological children from a previous marriage.

“(Adopting) is as emotionally gratifying as having a baby in any other way. It’s just a different journey.”

Some families are more immersed in the culture, having sent their children to Chinese lessons at a young age, Rick Bellairs said. His children have been raised as Americans and don’t speak Chinese, he said.

Still, the family has visited China, including the girls’ former orphanages. The girls were able to see where they came from and meet their original caregivers.

“Them being Chinese is a part of us,” Rick Bellairs said.

That’s what makes Chinese New Year so important, he and others say.

The meal itself contains all sorts of symbols, noodles for “long life,” chicken for “wealth,” a vegetable dish to “preserve our health,” said Plum Garden Owner Perry Moy, whose family is from China.

A dragon dance – which is “actually lions mistaken for dragons” – is held at the end of the celebration to “chase away the bad thoughts, the bad spirits, the bad things you did last year and start anew for the new year,” Moy said.

“We have a lot of fun with it, just to keep the thread of our culture going, to keep the family intact, reminisce and remind about the tradition,” he said.

It’s a tradition Julie Sosnowski of Wonder Lake would like to learn more about.

Sosnowski brought home her 18-month-old daughter Christina from China in July, nearly four years after first looking into adoption.

“We want her to have the opportunity to learn where she came from,” she said.

“As far as learning the language, it’d be great if she did. Some day she might want to go back and live there. ... We’re kind of just taking baby steps with all that.”

Ring in the new year

Area families with children adopted from China are invited to gather to celebrate Chinese New Year 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Feb. 21 at Plum Garden, 3917 Main St., McHenry. Reservations are required by Thursday. Contact Rick Bellairs at (815) 334-3618 or Rick@RickBellairs.com.

Taboos and superstitions of Chinese New Year

• The entire house should be cleaned before New Year’s Day. Sweeping and dusting should not be done on New Year’s Day for fear that good fortune will be swept away.

• Shooting off firecrackers on New Year’s Eve is the Chinese way of sending out the old year and welcoming in the New Year.

• At midnight on New Year’s Eve, every door in the house, and even windows, have to be open to allow the old year to go out.

•On New Year’s Eve, every member of the family gets together. If someone cannot come, an empty chair symbolizes that person’s presence.

• All debts should be paid by this time. Nothing should be lent on this day.

• Foul language and bad or unlucky words as well as references to the past year should be avoided.

• If you cry on New Year’s Day, you will cry all through the year.

• Clothing should be red, considered a bright, happy color sure to bring good fortune.

• Children are given little red envelopes with money inside.

• Do not use knives or scissors on New Year’s Day as this may cut off fortune.

• The first person one meets and the first words heard are significant as to what the fortunes will be for the entire year.

• On the 15th and last day of the celebration, lanterns are carried into the streets as part of a parade and all take part in a dragon dance.

Source: www.educ.uvic.ca/faculty/mroth/438/CHINA/chinese_new_year.html (As recommended by Anita Andrew, an associate professor of history at Northern Illinois University.)

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