Friday, February 20, 2015

In Praise of Lunar New Year

Another Chūn-jié (春节the Spring Festival) has arrived!


Chinese all over the world celebrate the first day of their Nóng-lì (农历 or calendar) with much pomp and cultural observance. The most symbolic of which, to many, is the roaming of lion dance troupes in Chinese dominated precincts or districts all over the world. Even in rural areas you can feel the festivity when Chūn-jié has arrived; new auspicious couplets (对联) adorn homes everywhere. (My late father used to be the most sought-after man in our village just before the arrival of each Chūn-jié, thanks to his mastery in Chinese calligraphy.) Chūn-jié is gala time for kids. Every child will wait anxiously for the eve to come - there are hong-baos (红包, New Year money in red packets) to collect, new dresses to wear and plenty of goodies to gorge on. Every good son and daughter will make an effort to return home for the reunion dinner. Exodus from the cities is indeed a sight to behold. Chūn-jié also gives one the opportunity to visit one’s hometown uncles and aunties. For those of Buddhist or Daoist faiths, it is time to visit your regular temples and make offerings to the deities there. Chūn-jié is also time for one to think of the less fortunate and dig deeper into pockets to do your bit. I miss many of these things now!


In Australia, it is just another day for most of us. Be that as it may, we do try to keep the tradition going by practising a couple of cultural essentials. My wife would organise a reunion. Since we only have our daughter and her family in Melbourne, she also ask her sister and her loved ones to join us. My son and his family would have to celebrate with his in-laws in Malaysia.


Nóng-lì, I understand, means 'Agriculture' Calendar. I suppose livelihood has always evolved around agriculture since time immemorial in China. You have the four seasons - Spring, Summer Autumn and Winter. Tong-ze (冬至 the Coming of Winter, or Winter Solstice) represents an important milestone each year, for it signifies the impending arrival of spring, where a new cycle of seasons will begin. The first day of the first moon marks the first day of Chūn-jié, or the Chinese New Year as we loosely call it.


Chūn-jié is actually more than Chinese New Year. It is also the New Year to Koreans, Vietnamese and some older Japanese. It should be more appropriately termed Lunar New Year, since it is based on the movement of the Moon. (The Economist in its last issue contended that the Chinese calendar was in fact, like the Gregorian (or Western) calendar, solar based, except that it had to insert in an extra month from time to time. How arrogant!) Of course, Chūn-jié as a term is also not quite encompassing, since there are now many Chinese, Koreans and Vietnamese in the Southern Hemisphere. But never mind, let's stick with the Lunar Calendar's nomenclature.


Chūn-jié is the time for greetings. Many still send cards to relatives, colleagues and friends even though e-cards are handier now. I click to wish former bosses and principals, relatives who are senior to me, university and school mates, and acquaintances who have done me favours. I am still a traditionalist; right protocol is important to me. I feel good each time I see one coming from my former workplace juniors or nephews and nieces. Unfortunately, such thoughtfulness is a rare commodity now. I seem to see that many in our younger generations are not quite bothered about this practice now. To post a general greeting on Facebook is not the same as one that is done with a personal touch. Maybe this is the price of progress?

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