With over 5000 years of documented history, China retains some of the oldest traditions in the world.
One such custom is the celebration of Chinese New Year, not at the turn of the year as in accordance to Georgian (Solar) Calendar, but rather to that of the Lunar Calendar, which is based on the cycle of the lunar phases.
It’s a familiar sight to see everything lit up in China- streets, buildings, trees and anything in-between. Yet somehow, on New Year’s Day, the cities become ever more lively.
A lavish celebration.
Before to my moving to Canada, my family always had great big reunions in this tiny apartment complex that served as my grand parents’ retirement home.
As kids, loving Chinese New Year is an understatement. Never mind the celebrations and chattering, we also received little red pockets from adults. The color red symbolized luck while inside these pockets, there would be $$$ as gifts ;).
So when the holiday nears, we’d charm family and friends in our little red sweaters and wish all a happy New Year with hopes of a little red envelope being thrust into our hands.
Traditionally, New Year dinner called for dumplings-these tiny meat-vegetable packed dough slices that are boiled till ready. As they resemble little gold ingots, dumplings are a symbol of wealth.
The women in the family would squeeze in the dimly-lit kitchen to prepare dishes for the night while men would gather about the living room and smoke and chat and drink baijiu-a >50% Chinese alcohol distilled from fermented sorghum.
Us kids would run around playing hide and seek and shout about stupidity.
In the background, the TV would broadcast the CCTV New Year Gala, a yearly entertainment program that would draw over 700 million in viewership.
When my family moved to Canada, it became just us who squeezed on the sofa watching the gala.
We still carried the tradition of dumplings and little red pockets, but instead of voices filling our apartment in Toronto, it would be endless phone calls to and from across the Pacific.
Even as I sit here jotting this down, my grandparents are upstairs calling their relatives in the depth of China.
But times have changed.
Instead of watching the lavish lights of the New Year Gala, my baby brother is mercilessly yelling at the screen and shooting away at some enemy formation in Call of Duty.
Instead of physical red pockets, Wechat, the Asian Whatsapp, now has the ability to wire transfer money through a red-pocket-like feature straight to your bank account.
Eventually, my parents met other Chinese immigrant families that would form a large group of ‘tradition-upholding-families-abroad’, as I’d call them. Regardless of their daily relations, this group consisting five families would gather at appropriate holidays to reminiscent and play cards.
It’s been 15 years, yet on days like today, the warmth of 15 something people squished in a 20 m2 living room is still fresh on my mind.
Happy New Year, yet on days like today, for us travelers and immigrants, it’s an unexplained mixture of gratitude and foreignity.