Chinese New Year 2015
Although I’m now living in Japan, Chinese New Year still influences how I live.
Today marks the Chinese New Year and the start of the year of the Ram (or sheep, or goat, feel free to debate that one in the comments section below). For seven years I lived with Chinese New Year as the major holiday on the calendar in Hong Kong and Singapore, but the truth is, growing up with such a large and vibrant Chinese community in Sydney, the festival has always been top of mind at the start of every year.
Gong Xi Fa Cai! Kung Hey Fat Choy!
Of course, Chinese New Year is hardly a small, regional event. With over 100 countries holding celebrations (roughly 1 in 6 people in the world) and as The Guardian pointed (Chinese new year 2015 – in numbers) in China citizens spend more than double what Americans spend during Thanksgiving on shopping and food. Fitting when we consider that more than double the population of the US will be on the move in China over the weeklong holiday, visiting family and home towns, not to mention the huge numbers across the rest of Asia, especially Hong Kong and Singapore who will be taking international breaks at this time.
Despite the increasing ambivalence towards organised religion in most developed countries, major traditional celebrations are not going away. This is not a bad thing. Celebrations like Chinese New Year might be open to political exploitation, especially as state-run Chinese media try to wrap the festival up in nationalist propaganda, but the celebrations also mark important ways in which individuals connect with family and community.
Red Packet Reality
The traditional giving of red envelopes with cash, (lai see), was a fascinating and humbling experience. The notes in the envelope should be new (or fresh and near new) which usually means a special trip to the bank. Parents give lai see to kids, bosses to employees, married couples to their single friends, but also you give lai see to others whose services you regularly rely on. I always gave lai see to the doormen and concierge at my building because they were such a helpful part of life and the staff of the restaurants and cafes I ate at every week.
In fact, the practice always made me reflect on the human relationships that made up my typical day. It’s easy to take for granted how many people help our day run well, but once all those coffee cups, postal deliveries, hailed taxis, meals and, appointments start getting measured out in red envelopes, it all starts to feel more substantial and interconnected.
Cleaning Or, Bringing In The Luck
Chinese New Year also marks a time to clean one’s home, to make room for good luck to come in, while dispensing with old and broken things that have no place anymore. And, while I don’t believe my good fortune it tied to when and how I tidy my home, there is something rather nice about starting the new year with a clean and organised home and workplace. In Japan, there is a similar tradition to cleaning before the calendar new year and it felt great to greet guests at the start 2015 in clean home and start the working year with everything in its place.
Of course, the language of “spring cleaning” is still commonplace, but I like the idea of fixing it to a date in the calendar. In a way, it’s liberating, as a household the custom of the big annual clean becomes less controversial, less of a thing to fight over or debate.
Truth is we need rituals that help us reflect on our habits of clutter and consumption. If our lives are too full of junk, then we simply don’t have room to be open to whatever the coming year has to offer us, we’ll be too weighed down either to respond, or to enjoy gifts life might have in store for us.