Stitching Together Traditions
At the Lantern Festival for the Chinese New Year, my brother, Kai-Yan, and I like to search for constellations. As we look for stars between the twinkling red and gold lanterns, I’m always fascinated that my family in Shanghai lives under the same sky and that everyone who came before us lived under the same sky, too. I think that’s why I’ve always loved the Chinese New Year: everyone celebrating has a similar experience. We clean our houses for good luck, eat special food together as a family, and hang red and gold lanterns for the Lantern Festival. I feel connected to the whole Chinese community, even my ancestors. They had the same traditions, too. When I wear my changshan, make lanterns, and come together as a community to celebrate Chinese New Year, I’m keeping traditions alive. It feels like I’m connected to both the past and the future.
This year, I made my own changshan for the first time. I’d seen an old photo of my yéye wearing one that had deep red silk with golden piping and intricate embroidery on one side.
“He made it himself,” Nai Nai told me. “Stitched it with his own hands. It was one of a kind.” She was proud.
I already had a changshan of my own, but it was from a store and I’d almost outgrown it. I wanted one like Yéye’s.
I came home from school the next day, and Nai Nai had laid out red and gold silk fabric in her sewing room. “We’re going to make you a new changshan for the Lantern Festival this year,” she told me happily. “It will make your yéye proud.”
Nai Nai has been teaching me to sew for a while, but the changshan was the biggest challenge. The stitching was difficult, and I wanted to make one that would impress my family. What if I made one that my yéye wouldn’t be proud of?
As I followed Nai Nai’s lead, I couldn’t help but imagine making a changshan for my dad, for my brother, or even for my family in Shanghai. I was a little ahead of myself though because my finished changshan didn’t turn out exactly the way I hoped it would. My embroidery was crooked, and the collar wasn’t quite right. But Nai Nai stepped back and admired it.
“It’s perfect,” she said, “because you made it.”
When my family and I went to the Lantern Festival, my dad, my brother, and I each wore our changshans. Kai-Yan and I looked up at the new moon, and it felt like Yéye was watching over us, like he was at the lantern festival, patting me on the back for my sloppy stitching. I already felt connected to my Chinese heritage, but the more I learn about it and the more I participate in it, the stronger it feels. I feel lucky to be a part of a community that’s so big and has such a rich heritage, and I can’t wait to continue learning more about it as I get older.