The Year of the Tiger: What Chinese New Year Means to Me


Isabella Hewitt

Envelopes used during the tradition of Hóngbāo, where one gives a red envelope to family and friends with money inside to symbolize good wishes and luck for the New Year.

Mikayla Ashe, Multimedia Video Editor

February: Chinese New Year. March: Passover. April: Ramadan. May: Eid al-Fitr. September: Rosh Hashanah. November: Chanukah.

These are the holidays I celebrate every year with my family. My father and his family always invited us to their Jewish holiday celebrations, where I attended Bat Mitzvahs, lit the menorah for Chanukah and searched for Challah bread without knowing its meaning or purpose. On my mother’s Moroccan side, I received Kaftans, strict rules about pork and chebakia cookies. Her family always welcomed me, but the language barrier — their Arabic and my English — did not help.

On top of balancing two cultures, I struggled to celebrate my own neglected heritage. As an Asian adoptee, I have always had a sense of cultural displacement, no matter how much I tried to act as if I belonged. I was desperate to understand my Chinese culture, though I did not know much about it, or had anyone in my family who did.

This post is sponsored by Unique Homes of Miami. For more information, please visit

Still, every Chinese New Year, my parents would slip a red envelope under my door with $20 in it. I never had the traditional family celebrations; no fireworks, no dragon dances, no lanterns or food. Nevertheless, the red envelope meant all the more to me — it served as a simple reminder that I am, have been and will always be Asian-American.

Entering high school, I decided to become a student volunteer for the annual Miami-Dade Chinese New Year Festival. I welcomed community members to the event, overseeing performances, manning game booths and distributing Chinese food. Spread amongst the boba tea and the new friends I made, it was difficult to pick the highlight of my day. For the first time in my life, calling myself Asian-American had real weight behind it, instead of just being a label assigned at birth, like my name or my birthday. 

Chinese New Year can mean many different things for many different people. To me, it is a celebration of my progress in figuring out the different facets of my identity and having gained a greater understanding of my heritage. Growing up, I felt weakness in the complexities of my cultural background. Now, I understand they are an asset. Because of Chinese New Year, I am no longer a girl who felt like she did not belong to any culture — I am a girl who has three.