A Chinese New Year's in California by H. H.
The Chinese in California have a week of holiday at their New Year's in
February, just as we do between the twenty-fifth of December and the
first of January.
In the cities they make a fine display of fire-works. They use barrels
full of fire-crackers, and the Chinese boys do not fire them off, as the
American boys do, a cracker at a time; they bring out a large box full,
or a barrel full, and fire them off package after package, as fast as
In Santa Barbara, where I was during the Chinese New Year's of 1882, we
heard the crackers long before we reached Chinatown. After these stopped
we went into the houses. Every Chinese family keeps open house on New
Year's day all day long. They set up a picture or an image of their god
in some prominent place, and on a table in front of this they put a
little feast of good things to eat. Some are for an offering to the god
and some are for their friends who call. Everyone is expected to take
There was no family so poor that it did not have something set out, and
some sort of a shrine made for its idol; in some houses it was only a
coarse wooden box turned up on one end like a cupboard, with two or
three little teacups full of rice or tea, and one poor candle burning
before a paper picture of the god pasted or tacked at the back of the
It was amusing to watch the American boys darting about from shop to
shop and house to house, coming out with their hands full of queer
Chinese things to eat, showing them to each other and comparing notes.
"Oh, let me taste that!" one boy would exclaim on seeing some new thing;
and "Where did you get it? Which house gives that?" Then the whole party
would race off to make a descent on that house and get some more. I
thought it wonderfully hospitable on the part of the Chinese people to
let all these American boys run in and out of their houses in that way,
and help themselves from the New Year's feast.
Some of the boys were very rude and ill-mannered—little better than
street beggars; but the Chinese were polite and generous to them all.
The joss-house, where they held their religious services, was a chamber
opening out upon an upper balcony. This balcony was hung with lanterns
and decorated. The door at the foot of the stairs which led to this
chamber stood open all day, and any one who wished could go up and say
his prayers in the Chinese fashion, which is a curious fashion indeed.
They have slender reeds with tight rolls of brown paper fastened at one
end. In front of the image or picture of their god they set a box or
vase of ashes, on which a little sandalwood is kept burning. When they
wish to make a prayer they stick one of the reeds down in these ashes
and set the paper on fire. They think the smoke of the burning paper
will carry the prayer up to heaven.
I asked a Chinese man who could speak a little English why they put
teacups of wine and tea and rice before their god; if they believed that
the god would eat and drink.
"Oh, no," he said, "that not what for. What you like self, you give god.
He see. He like see."