The best way to describe the nature of the holiday is to say it's Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Spring Cleaning combined into one, huge holiday. Chinese New Year music plays in the stores and malls for weeks, red lanterns adorn almost every door, cleaning and catering services inundate mailboxes with hundreds of promotional flyers... basically the entire country is all a hustle and bustle for a month and a half. I have grown to really appreciate, and even love this time of year. Some of the traditions are so smart that they could only have come from a very old, experienced culture...
Some of my favorites:
-Everyone spends hours and hours cleaning out their entire house leading up to the holiday. Every corner of the house must be cleaned meticulously... the worse a year you had last year, the more rigorously you clean. You get rid of your old stuff and buy new as much as you can afford, at the very least a new outfit. This is olympic-level deep cleaning.
-The holiday is really a week of celebrations and traditions, part of which includes two days for visiting family. The sons visit their parents and family for a "reunion dinner" the first day, and the daughters visit their parents and family for a "reunion dinner" the second day. No "taking turns" or jealous in-laws. Genius. People do everything in their means and power to make these visits happen. They spend thousands of dollars to go back to China if they have to, because it is Chinese New Year and that is the day you visit your parents. Couples whose parents live in different provinces will travel for hours through the night to make it from the son's family to the daughter's family on time. It is pretty incredible.
-During and for several days after the reunion dinners, there is absolutely no cleaning. None. Lots of people even have two sets of dishes so they can host their sons and their daughters without doing dishes in between because it is such bad luck.
-No gifts. Just "ang pau", little red envelopes filled with and even amount of new bills of money. Not old bills, new ones. Not $4, or $40, or $400 though... because the Chinese word for "four" sounds like the chinese word for "dead" and you are basically wishing someone dead. Chinese are so superstitious that doing something so unlucky would be basically the meanest thing you could possibly do to someone. And only older people give them to younger people.
-Symbols, symbols, symbols. Some make no sense to me even after someone explains them, but the ones I like include: two fish decorations to signify having enough and then some; tangerines with leaves to symbolize long-lasting friendship; Red and gold EVERYTHING to symbolize good fortune and prosperity; tangerines and pineapples without leaves to symbolize wealth; firecrackers to chase away bad spirits; and so on... everything means something during Chinese New Year.
-Along the lines of symbols, rubbing a blonde child's hair is considered very, very good luck (it's gold, which is an auspicious color). Last year Jonathan almost had a bald spot rubbed off--it was the Dragon year, which (for reasons I'm still not totally clear on) is really important it go well for people. So lots and lots of blonde-baby-rubbing happened. The hair rubbing happens all year around, Jonathan doesn't even notice or flinch when people rub his hair because he's so used to it, but it is especially intense during CNY. People will rub his head, look at me, smile and say, "It will be a good Snake year, now. Thank you." You are considered extremely fortunate if you actually have a blonde baby in your house. Basically nothing can go wrong for you... I can't disagree. We are pretty fortunate to have our little tow head around.
So in the spirit of Chinese New Year, some friends and I bought our kids little Chinese outfits and took them to a beautiful monastic garden to take pictures. Because, you know... that's what happens when you get a bunch of expat stay-at-home moms together. As Jonathan and I left to meet our friends that day Fabio called out to me, "Have fun playing dolls with your friends today!" It is what it is. But look how cute they turned out!
Jon and the ladies... S, O, A, J, and Z
We also had a little "reunion dinner" with our Singapore extended family. Jonathan played with his buddies (read, ladies) while we ate egg drop soup, lettuce wraps, and brownies (no authentic Asian desserts for me, thank you very much). We couldn't bring ourselves to be totally authentic, so we did the dishes afterwards too. Hopefully we didn't send all our luck for 2013 down the drain (literally).
And with that, we wish a belated but sincere Gong Xi Fa Cai to everyone!