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Last week, a Twitter thread from a Chinese-Canadian woman who lives in New Westminster B.C. got a lot of attention.
Elaine Su tweeted about her experience asking her neighbours to put up Lunar New Year decorations, to help her two-year-old son experience the festival as part of a community. In a neighbourhood mostly consisting of non-Chinese residents, about half of the households (more than 70) complied. Take a stroll down her street and you’re likely to see more than a few diamond-shaped red posters with the Chinese character “Fu,” representing good fortune or happiness, hanging upside down, to signify fortune “falling upon the household.”
As a reporter in The Globe’s B.C. bureau, I wrote about Ms. Su last week. Interviewing her for the story stirred up my own memories of celebrating Lunar New Year. The holiday was a big deal for me as a kid growing up in Jiangsu, a coastal Chinese province north of Shanghai.
Ms. Su, who herself immigrated to Canada as a kid, wants to replicate some of the traditions from her childhood for her children. “I think celebrations are ways that people in the diaspora – immigrants and children of immigrants – can connect with their culture in a way that begins to reclaim their heritage,” she told me.
Consider me inspired.
Lunar New Year, also known as Spring Festival, celebrates the beginning of the year in the lunar calendar – based on the cycles of the moon phases. The holiday, which some say we’ve been celebrating for about 4,000 years, typically starts on the second new moon after winter solstice, and falls anywhere between late January and late February. Traditionally, celebrations last for 15 days, starting from New Year’s Eve to the 15th day of the first lunar month, known as the Lantern Festival.
Legend says the holiday originated with the fight against a mythical beast called “Year,” or Nian, who came down from the mountains to hunt people on New Year ‘s Eve. Villagers discovered that Nian feared the colour red, candle light and loud noises. So they began to decorate with the vibrant hue, light their homes with lanterns and set off firecrackers to prevent his return.
These celebratory traditions continue today, along with a host of others that have evolved over time. For example, in the days leading up to the holiday, people do a thorough cleaning of their homes, to “sweep out the old in order to usher in the new”; on New Year’s Day, people wear new clothes to emphasize the idea of change and beginning; and children and single people receive lucky money from elders.
On New Year’s Eve, my family would come together to celebrate with food prepared by my grandma. We always had a dish consisting of purslane, dried tofu and mushrooms because the dish’s Chinese name – 安乐菜 – reflects the ideas of safety and joy. While we were eating, the TV played the annual Chinese New Year’s Gala presented by Chinese state media. Though the show, which consists of singing, dancing, comedy and Chinese opera, has drawn criticism for serving as a propaganda tool and its increasing ideological messaging, hundreds of millions of families still tune in.
Moments before the countdown, the sound of firecrackers would fill every corner of our apartment and the celebrations continued into the next day.
For breakfast, we would eat “tang yuan” or “yuan xiao” (glutinous rice balls), because they signify the idea of reunion. Then, it was off to visit my grandparents, who were already awaiting us and my other extended family with lucky money and more food! No matter how full and reluctant we were, we had to eat “nian gao” (rice cake), even just a bite, because it symbolizes a wish for one to grow or to be more successful year by year.
My favourite part of the holiday came after that – while the adults were catching up or setting up mahjong, my cousins and I were finally freed from our parents. With all the lucky money, we hit the streets and bought more food and more firecrackers!
I didn’t know what it all meant when I was little but I assumed everything we did was to bring good luck or good fortune. When I grew older, my research proved my childhood hunch wasn’t off.
These days, Lunar New Year traditions across Asia are fading, as even my own family has experienced. And after moving to Canada, I further lost touch with my Chinese culture as I completely dove into my new life in a new country. But Ms. Su’s story brought my own childhood memories to the surface. It made me remember how much fun those celebrations were, and how taking time to reflect on those precious moments is worthwhile. Maybe it’s time for me, like her, to reclaim Lunar New Year.
In fact, just now, I hung up a Fu character, upside down.
What else we’re thinking about:
I am fascinated by the diversity of online apps these days. Like everyone else, I’ve struggled with routine and exercise during the pandemic. Steezy, a dance class app, has helped solve my problem. I have zero experience with hip-hop dance but I’ve always loved watching others show off their moves. I’ve just always felt too shy to display my stiff, forced attempts. Now, thanks to these online classes, I’ve been enjoying sweating to the fun choreography, and, yes, laughing at my poor co-ordination.
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