Today is New Year's Eve. In China and some other countries in Southeast Asia, tomorrow — Thursday, Feb. 3 — is the first day in the new year.
Chinese families get together to exchange gifts, wear red-trimmed clothes, decorate with red and gold and prepare special foods.
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In cold, snowy Hagerstown, Siming Macpherson recalls her childhood in tropical, southern China.
"I grew up in Canton," she said. "It's like Florida. We have flowers year-round. There's a flower market three days before New Year's. We display flowers like these."
She gestured to a branch of silk peach blossoms in the corner of her shop, Spirit of the Lotus Tea Co.
Macpherson said people in China celebrate the New Year for days.
"New Year is a time for families to get together," she said. "It's a two-week holiday."
Korea also celebrates New Year at this time. Mi Young Montgomery was born and raised in Seoul, Korea. At 23, she emigrated to the United States, and she lives with her husband, Kenneth, and three children in Hagerstown.
She said when she was young, Korean city dwellers tended to drop some of the older traditions. But respect for elders is still important, and when urban hipsters visited their parents living in the countryside, they celebrated New Year's in the traditional fashion, with traditional foods and games. Sometimes an entire village celebrating together.
Now that she lives half a world from her parents, she still maintains close ties.
"Usually at New Year's we all wear new clothes. New Year is a new starting point," she said. "This year, my mother sent a Korean dress for my kids. Outfits for all three. We still celebrate, but we don't bow down to ancestors."
Montgomery said in Korea, families share a holiday feast, with white rice cakes, bone broth, special dumplings and more. Her church, the Hagerstown Korean Church, celebrated the New Year this past Sunday. Montgomery translates worship services at the church for English-speaking members.
Macpherson said people in China have many special foods connected New Year's festivities. Traditional Cantonese foods tend to be sweet — candied fruit, sweet dumplings, sweet cakes — and they can be time-consuming to make. So many modern families purchase commercial versions.
And in modern China, there are other commercial sweets: chocolates. She pulled out a tray of gold-wrapped treats.
"This is the modern version," she said with a laugh. "Chocolates that look like gold ingots."