Ah, Chinese New Year. Or Lunar New Year, as it’s more commonly known in the rest of the world. ‘Tis another season of travelling and feasting. Homes are filled with the happy cacophony of relatives and visitors. And for 15 days, red is the new black. In fact, don’t even think about wearing black!
When I was planning this post, I reflected on my experience of Chinese New Year growing up. The truth is, the celebration was always a mix of joyful memories, uncomfortable moments and learning to laugh at yourself.
For me, Chinese New Year is when:
1. You’re reminded of the goals you’ve yet to achieve
It’s a painful ritual: Smiling and pretending I understand what my 10th granduncle is saying. Then when he realizes what’s going on, he’ll ask the dreaded question, “Cannot speak Mandarin? Hokkien also? Cannot, must learn!” I try to appease his horror by promising to learn soon. But next year comes, and I still haven’t made good on that promise. Repeat.
Oh well. At least I’ve gotten pretty good at visual communication. I think. (For the record, I’m finally putting some effort in learning the language. Yay me!)
2. You learn to deal with and accept your body
There’s always that aunt who’ll exclaim that you put on weight or lost too much. Either way, you’re not what you’re supposed to be, at least to her. For me, I’ve to deal with an extra question. I’m naturally tan, and certain distant relatives, bless their hearts, value porcelain skin. So whenever I meet them, the inevitable comes, “Why so dark?”
I used to be embarrassed by the scrutiny. But over the years, I realize that I can’t change this part of me. And even if I can, I don’t need to or want to. So yes, I’m tan and I love being tan.
3. You get a reality check that you’re not that awesome after all
Sure it’s fun to have the whole clan together. But every family comes with idiosyncrasies, and sometimes these traits trigger conflict. You start to remember why you meet certain people only once a year. But then you also start to wonder if you’re just as crazy as that garrulous uncle. Because you know, “It runs in the family”.
Yes, it’s not all firecrackers and warm reunions. But for all its baggage, Chinese New Year is also when:
4. You learn the value of honor
This is one thing I’ve come to appreciate about this festivity. An example of showing honor to our parents happens on the first morning. We’d kneel before our elders, say a few words and move our hands a certain way. Just to be clear, it’s not worship. It’s a physical sign of acknowledging and appreciating your parents and grandparents – they who paved the way before you, raised you, and took care of you.
5. You practice the art of hospitality
Cleaning the house, baking cookies, and cooking pots of food for visitors – they’re such tiring tasks and often prompt a complaint or two. Yet we do all this because we eagerly look forward to having friends and family over. How wonderful that we usher in the new year with community. I think this is something we should remember to practice the rest of the year.
6. You’re challenged to love unconditionally
The season is a powerful opportunity to love and learn about love. As much as others belittled me, they taught me to not look at others based on appearance or skills. And although close proximity with certain persons can drive you up the wall, you’re challenged to forgive. You also realize that time is short, and these people in your lives will one day be no more. Obviously, the challenge to love is not an easy one. And relationships can get real messy. But somehow or other, you’re called to love all the same.
7. You understand the need to perpetuate traditions
Chinese New Year was not smooth and easy growing up. It was a love-hate relationship. Then I married and had to give up some traditions in exchange for some of my husband’s. Never did I anticipate missing those customs – things I now understand give a sense of continuity, stability and belonging.
When I first wrote this post, I had thought of writing only about the good bits. But I then realize that my tale of Chinese New Year would be interestingly incomplete without the awkward parts. Ups and downs, happy or not, it is the entirety of the experience that’s played a part in building my identity. For that, Chinese New Year isn’t so bad after all.
This coming Monday, I wish you a good week of rousing fun, food and family. May it be a wonderful time to live out honor, hospitality and love. Happy Chinese New Year!