One of my favorite memories growing up in New York, was how my family celebrated Chinese New Year. We were lucky that our grandparents and all of our aunts, uncles and cousins, from both sides of of the family, lived within 30-45 minutes away and every Chinese New Year there was always a massive gathering at our house in Long Island. Somehow, in between the endless Mahjong rounds being played by the adults--often with 2 tables going at the same time; the dice games being played by those left out of the Mahjong tables; the hong bao's passed to the kids and unmarried; paper money being folded and burned to our ancestors, an abundant amount of special Chinese New Year dishes miraculously got prepared and cooked and spread out on our dining room table. Our long table would have at one end, a mini-altar that each family member--old and young, would have to perform the 'honoring-of-the-ancestor' ritual: light an incense stick, bow three-times with the incense in between your pressed palms and then stick the incense in the urn. We were only allowed to eat after the spirit of our ancestors first 'enjoyed' the food.
I love Chinese New Year. I love all the rituals and symbolisms. It's a perfectly timed holiday that comes after the celebrations and festivities of Christmas and New Year's Eve. You never really have a chance to experience any post-holiday blues---because Chinese New Year is right around the corner!
My cousin Christine recently celebrated an early Chinese New Year dinner with her family. I love the decorations she created and how festive it all is. Her daughter created the fortune cookie dip. As a kid I was never that creative. All I was ever focused on were how many hong bao's I was going to get!