Friday, 8 February 2013

Chinese New Year Is A Family Thing

Chinese New Year

Indeed Chinese New Year is all about family.  It’s the longest and most important event in a Chinese festive calendar.  The purpose of which, is to welcome the wonderful season of  Spring.   This year, we celebrate the Lunar New Year of the Chinese Zodiacal sign of the Snake.  It reminded me of the stories my friends told me about how snakes, a symbol of fertility, would appear  out of their hidey holes to test the weather, some time just after Imbolc, which celebrates the midway mark between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. 

As I have been blessed with so many friends from all over the world, I thought to take this opportunity to share a bit of my culture with everyone in this blog post dedicated to my family's celebration of the Lunar New Year of the Snake.

There is a folklore that surrounded Chinese New Year.  When I was very young, I was told stories about this beast called “Nian” who would come out of the Winter hibernation to visit the villages with the intent to hunt for food.  It would  eat crops, livestock and the villagers, causing much fear.  So the villagers would put food out at their front door in the hope that “Nian”’s hunger will be satiated by the food and would leave the crops, livestock and their fellow villagers alone.  “Nian” was afraid of the colour red too, so the villagers would hang red lanterns above their doorways and everyone would wear red during Spring.  “Nian” was also afraid of loud noises hence the villagers would be lighting firecrackers throughout the village in an attempt to frighten “Nian” away.

This week, we celebrate Chinese New Year similarly by hanging red-colored decorations around the home.  I’ve got pretty calligraphy of Chinese couplets printed on red-colored paper hung all over my home and pasted on my front door….much like a Christmas wreath. 

It’s All About Family

We’d spent the week before the festivities spring cleaning and shopping for festive goodies and new clothes.  While my family and I had done all that together, the nicest thing this year was that I did the same with my team at work who are very much family to me too.  My team and I spent our lunch hour one afternoon, shopping along Chinatown and we even rolled up our sleeves to spring clean the office!  One of my more nutty staff suggested that we should be spring cleaning our office, using water with pomelo leaves soaked in it.  Pomelo is seen as a symbol of luck and success, so I hope our projects at work will be launched successfully after breaking my back wiping down my entire office using pomelo leaves.  It was hilarious really, when I started sprinkling my office space and my nameplate with the pomelo leaves in the hope of bringing abundance to my work area!

What’s most important for us during this festive holiday is the “reunion dinner” on the eve of the first day of Chinese New Year.  In China, the villages and town centres are spread far and wide so the younger generation in the family who were working all over, would make a trip home to their villages in time for the Chinese New Year celebrations which would be kicked off with the reunion dinner.  Honestly, it happens here in Singapore too, where some of my Malaysian Chinese, Australian Chinese, British Chinese, American Chinese, Indonesian Chinese, Thai Chinese and Vietnamese Chinese friends had already taken the week off to fly back home to join their extended families for the celebrations.

As today is the eve of Chinese New Year, we celebrated it with a reunion dinner at Mum and Dad’s (much like Thanksgiving), and all my uncles and aunties, my cousins, my brother, my sister-in-law, Granny, David and Joel congregated there for the scrumptious meal.  Mum laid out a smorgasbord of food themed to the festival, for example, the “Prosperity Roasted Duck”, “Longevity Noodles” and “Abundance Hot Pot”.  Okay, slightly cheesy, but you get the message.  My favorite dish at the table was the “Prosperity Raw Fish Salad” which was a dish made of slivers of freshly sliced salmon ( to represent wealth) and a colorful assortment of vegetables. The dish tasted wonderful and tossing the salad  together as a family was fun. As we tossed the salad, we had to utter words of prosperity to “seal the spell”…know what I mean?

Tomorrow, on the first day of Chinese New Year, we will visit Granny, as well as Mum and Dad – the older generation. This year, I wouldn’t visit my uncles because I wanted to dedicate more time during this holiday to David and Joel, just relaxing at home and watching movies together.  What we'd be missing would be the little “pop-up” black jack tables at my uncle’s home.  It’s always filled with much fun and laughter.   During our visits, we would give each other mandarin oranges and red packets filled with money to the children as well as to Granny, Mum and Dad. Giving out mandarin oranges and red packets is seen as a token gesture wishing our relatives, and friends a blessed Lunar New Year full of good health and prosperity. 

It’s Significance To Me

I loved Chinese New Year because of the cultural significance of familial piety.  My Granny, Dad and Mom came from a highly conventional background where they held dearly the Confucian values of respect, piety, and loyalty.  Modern day career demands and fast paced lifestyle have eroded bits of my culture and rendering it excusable  to “not observe the full practice” of the Chinese New Year celebrations.  For example,  today, we don’t wear  traditional Chinese garb (except Joel, who often become the butt of jokes when friends pointed to his Chinese traditional shirt and pants, and asked him why he was still in his pyjamas in the middle of the afternoon) and although  a married daughter was not allowed to go back to her mother’s home for the reunion dinner ( this was culturally forbidden because it was thought that once the daughter is married, she belonged to her husband's family.  A visit back to her own parents' home indicated issues with the marriage), I did.   

My generation and indeed the generation after will see  our culture eroding bit by bit but what still remains strong is our Confucian values of respect, piety and loyalty. 

About the writer:

The writer of this blog post is a 43 year old mother of one, who spreads her time between her day job as a marketeer at a financial institution, her hobby as a certified professional tarot reader and numerologist, and her family which includes a 19 year old son.  She's married to a Scot who has been affectionately called "The Crazy AngMo" and prays that he does not find out that the term when translated, has labeled him as a "Ginger Head".

    My table decked with mandarin oranges, a symbol of gold and abundance, plenty of candy and chocs, and a red packet filled with money.
This is the Chinese word for Prosperity.  It's created out of paper-cutting.  I got this from Chinatown and thought it was such a creative piece of craft.

I have to admit, I haven't the faintest idea what the words in this couplet mean.  I was just told by the bloke at the shop that this was good for David's business.  Whatever helps eh?

The ubiquitous Salmon "Yu Sheng" Salad.  The higher we toss the dish with our chopsticks, the more prosperity will come our they say.

My advertising agencies very kindly visited the office bearing these gifts. 

Pomelo leaves soaked in the water meant to be used for spring cleaning the office.  This is a new custom to me.  Haven't heard that one before.  Not sure if that nutter of a staff is being funny.
The girls captured a pic of me trying to "smudge" my nameplate at the office with the darn pomelo leaves.  On looking back, I think that nutter of a staff was indeed trying to be funny.

And below, is a pic of me with Mr Bean, an albino python.  I think he is albino.  I loved Mr Bean. He is a very gentle python and was brought in by his trainer seen beside me, to usher in the Lunar New Year of the Snake with plenty of photo opportunities for the guests at the event.   He was such a poser and would be peering unabashedly at the photographer.  I never had snakes around my body before and thought he was going to be slimey and icky.  But he was warm, comfy and oh so friendly!

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