Ruth Tan (China, UWCSEA 10’-12’)
“Despite our hardships, however, there were occasional joys too in our childhood. The one time of the year that we all looked forward to, the one time when we would be guaranteed wonderful food, was the Chinese New Year.” – Li Cunxin in “Mao’s Last Dancer”
The Chinese New Year, otherwise known as the Lunar New Year, falls at the turn of the Chinese calendar year, and is considered the most important festival in Chinese culture. It may even be one of the longest standing traditions in world history. Year after year, in the days leading up to it, waves of workers surge back to their hometowns, their hopes of family reunion rushing alongside them. For most, sitting down at the dinner table with a pair of chopsticks in hand on Chinese New Year’s Eve, is the very meaning of being Chinese.
In the next fifteen days, there would be slews of red packet giving, meeting relatives, and indulging in our quintessential cuisine alongside raucous lion dancing . As a child, I was always rather indifferent to the Chinese New Year celebrations. I knew it as the time of donning delightful red qipao , receiving hongbao , memorising auspicious dui lian and of course, feasting on delicacies, especially pineapple tarts. Other than this, I don’t remember thinking much more of it, except feeling special after collecting piles of those dear little crimson packets. At sixteen, I still feel special, but a different kind of special.
Somehow, during these past few years, I have grown to embrace this festival. As the old tenet goes, one never knows what one has until it is gone. True to that statement, I only started to appreciate Chinese New Year after movingoverseas, then back to Singapore five years later. I became in touch with tradition again. Even though Singapore is fledgling nation, the Singaporean Chinese’s ties with age-old customs are strong. I’m still not too sure how this happened, but I am certain of one thing – the New Year this year, which celebrated the arrival of the Year of the Rabbit, signified gratitude.
It struck me that to have a loving family and the ability to celebrate these traditions was something that I should be thankful for. The New Year also shone a light of hope, that there was something inherently beautiful about tradition and culture, and ignited in me a powerful want to continue celebrating these customs. Rediscovering my identity allowed me to foster my sense of belonging, not only to my country and my ethnicity, but also to my uniquely Chinese upbringing, and the values that my parents nurtured me with. After all, our family is the very source of warmth and in the Chinese New Year.
Another thing that particularly interested me was that in Chinese tradition, everything has its story. It seems that every word has a particular connotation, a meaning more precise than any other. Take for instance, the lion dance. It is a symbolic ritual used to scare away evil spirits, stemming from an ancient fable spun around a village’s success in defeating demons. The dragon dance, equally as exciting, is also performed in other parts of Asia. Some may classify this as superstition, but it is truly amazing to see these traditional dances still thriving today.
Aside from providing insights into such a rich culture, observing festivities is another way of delving deeper into the intricacies of human propensities; some things change, but others stay the same. Traditions have stood the test of time till now, but will they survive the emphases on self-interest and rejection of backward ways that seem to permeate our generation?
Undoubtedly, the only thing that would add more diversity to this joyous occasion is to find other races celebrating the Chinese New Year as well. I am truly proud to belong to such an ancient culture, and invite everyone, across the world, to seize the opportunity and celebrate with us next year, no matter what culture you come from. As cultures mix, new ideas are created and accepted, and the possibility of culture enduring, even new traditions developing, will prosper.
-United World College Student Magazine-