It has been 7 years since I last celebrated Chinese New Year the right way – with my family. To be honest, I have forgotten how to celebrate it. Was it the time when we travelled far to eat a lot, to see lots of extended family (I had to do a mental revision of who is who and how to properly address them before I arrived at my grandparents’ house), to be without a computer and internet and therefore resorted to trashy Chinese New Year radio and television shows?
Ah, yes, that was the memory, when we never used to have satellite television at home, Chinese New Year was the one rare occasion where we could watch something more exciting – Singapore TV channels (as hometown was close enough to Singapore to receive its TV signals). There was MediaCorp Channel 8 with the series and programmes all in (Singaporean/Malaysian) Mandarin rather than Cantonese, and Channel 5 with non-stop programmes and movies in English.
There was the time where they banned fireworks and fire crackers, and we could only play the baby version of pop-pop’s – I was secretly relieved, as I was slightly terrified by lighting up the former and never too amazed by them either.
CNY used to be a diplomatic affair that put lots of stress on my younger self. As I grew older, i.e. post-university and now, in the workplace, of course, I finally learnt the need to be diplomatic… what I needed to do in CNY was not remotely about diplomacy. Maybe it still is, but I have been missing the opportunity to celebrate it, to really know.
I used to like the fact that my family was modern – we never had superstitions or traditional activities around CNY (or in fact, anything else). No one lectured me on what to do and what not to do. I never know any of those folk practices of not cleaning the house on certain days of CNY, the need to lou sang, the need to pray to our ancestors, shou sui, or hold a night long ceremony of thanking the Gods on whenever it needs to be. It has perhaps helped me to not miss CNY so much when I am away – good or bad, depends on the context.
But now I wished I had known them. When you are away from home, ritual can be something that keeps you connected to where you are from. I fear that as years go by, I would not have felt that I am any different from those who go have a meal and watch something in Chinatown call it a CNY celebration…
(Thank God for this video. It saved me from the misery of being homesick.)