Chinese New Year is upon us!
I feel lonely every year during this time ever since I had a family of my own. I put in a ton of effort celebrating Thanksgiving with my 8 course homemade Thanksgiving meals. A month later, Christmas! Which calls for not just homemade meals, but trees, decorations, presents. In this country of excess, I do diligence teaching my kid at least my feeling of the meaning of Christmas (me, being a Buddhist) by taking her to volunteer to serve food to the sick; by spending plenty of family time together; and by limiting her Santa “list” to one item. Still, we can’t escape the commercialism and the omnipresent pressure for people to buy gifts and more gifts.
Then comes the biggest festival in the Asian community: Chinese New Year (CNY), or Lunar New Year. By now, I am holiday spent. I can barely make dinner to feed my family after working long days in the hospital, let alone making the kind of spread that my grandmothers used to lavish on for CNY. By now, I am so glad that my house is finally free of all the Christmas ornaments, that the last thing I want to do is to decorate my house all over again.
Ironically, the Lunar New Year is the biggest holiday I grew up celebrating. To those who are unfamiliar with CNY celebration, it is akin to having a holiday where you celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas combined together. The whole country is on vacation. This is the holiday where everyone in the family gather around to eat nonstop, and we get gift money. Not tons of presents, but cash money stuffed in red envelopes. This way, we don’t have to waste time running to the mall, guessing what to buy for whom. Better yet, we don’t have to waste even more time after the holidays to deal with gift receipts and returns. In this way, we learned, at a young age, how to manage money: you save some, spend some, and share some. I remember the sheer delight as a kid after bowing to your elders, be it grandparents, uncles, aunties, great uncles, great aunties; you name it, and we get red envelopes. We’d count our stash of money, give most of them to our parents to save, and take our “spend” portion. All the children would run into the stores, squealing, buying that one item that we’ve been coveting for the whole year and buying sweets for ourselves and to share with our friends and cousins. Everyone was happy sharing our toys and sweets, because by sharing, you get to taste more treats and to play with more toys!
From a child’s perspective, the first day of the New Year is designated to be spent with your father’s family, and the second day, with your mother’s maiden family. Therefore, on the second day of the New Year, all the married women return to visit her parents with her husband and children in tow. In this organized manner, there is no confusion over which in-laws get which holiday. We’d see all of our cousins over this period. At one time, I counted 36 cousins when we visited on the second day of the New Years with Mom. Adults hung out, talked politics and played games. The children ran around mostly unsupervised, enjoying the company of cousins. There were always food and snacks and fruits on the table. Since all the snacks and candies had symbolic meanings that supposedly bring fortunes to the family, parents wouldn’t fault you for devouring say, a whole bunch of those yummy sesame seed candies (Oh, but I really want to have a little brother next year!). Why, you might even be encouraged to take some more of those sesame seed candies! All the aunts and uncles and grandparents and great grandparents gather around, putting out one lavish meal after another, day after day. As a child, I didn’t realize how much work that must have been for all the females in the family. I just remembered it fondly, with a sense of nostalgia for the time long gone.
This is why, despite my holiday fatigue, I sauntered on. I take out the CNY holiday items that we’ve acquired over the years, and start to put them up one by one. Perhaps because it really is up to me to uphold my family tradition, I don’t feel the external pressure to put up the tree or the lights because the neighbors have them up. I decorate my house the way I want it: simple and meaningful. There is a string of the twelve zodiac stuffed animals in vibrant silk that I hang on the wall. Beautifully decorated golden dragon and pink lion puppets that Plumster absolutely adores that I hang by the window. Firecrackers with the word “fortune” on top that I hang on our front door. A big golden nugget shaped box to house the sweets. Voila! CNY decoration is done in our house.
And I will make one lavish meal, so that my family can get a flavor of my childhood New Year. Plumster will get one red envelope, and we will let her put away a portion to save. We will take her to the store, so that she may get that one gift that she’s been dreaming of, and hopefully, treasure.