Christmas is magical. With pretty decorations and presents, it is a meaningful and happy time of the year. Chinese New Year is an auspicious time. To many Chinese, the year starts only after the Chinese New Year. It has a significant place in the hearts of Chinese around the world. Above all, it is about Chinese customs and traditions. Known as the Spring Festival in China, it kicks off with the reunion dinner for families. So it is also about the family unit. And the extended family of relatives, and in business, partners and associates.
To me, Chinese New Year is really a celebration of being Chinese. About who I am and where I am from. Which is why with each passing year, I celebrate it with stricter adherence to its customs. These customs are complex and they have evolved with the times. While there are common threads among Chinese celebrating it, each Chinese society has its specialties and peculiarities. Red is common, but ‘Yusheng’, for example, is quite unique to Singapore. There is a period of ‘spring cleaning’ leading up to the actual day when ‘out with the old and in with the new’ is the adage.
Celebrating Chinese New Year in the tropics can appear strange to someone in China, not unlike singing ‘White Christmas’ under the sun. We get a feel of the cold spring of China from some temperate plants and flowers. But they need special care. The Peach Blossoms need ice and a lot of water to bloom. So, in addition to Ang Pows, oranges and feasting, there is also a ‘flora and fauna’ dimension to Chinese New Year. The sales of Chinese New Year plants and flowers have become a thriving business. The Chinese New Year equivalent of the Christmas Tree is the Kumquat Tree, with the bright orange fruits believed to bring luck and the tree itself believed to be auspicious for wealth in the New Year.
Each flower or plant has its own good luck meaning for the coming year. Kumquat, Tangerine and Narcissus bring good luck, Peonies bring wealth, Peach Blossoms bring romance, Gladiolus brings advancements in job and schoolwork, and Lucky Bamboos turn luck around for the household. Many Chinese use the ‘spring cleaning’ to ‘overhaul’ their wardrobe and house furnishing. Maybe I am just referring to myself. I do not shop much until before Chinese New Year. For a few weeks, I try to enjoy shopping for what I need for the whole of next year. As a child, Chinese New Year was about loud firecrackers, new clothes, special New Year food, snacks and Ang Pow money. As an adult, it is really about new beginnings.
This year, my sister Shirley is organising the reunion dinner at her brand new house. After dinner, I will proceed to watch the midnight fireworks with friends at the Marina Bay. Chinese New Year is now a timely reminder to count my blessings. This year, I am very blessed to be able to spend another Chinese New Year with my mother. Some friends are surprised how seriously I observe the Chinese New Year customs. My whole house is transformed. Each year my practices for this all-important Chinese festivity are fine-tuned.
The Chinese New Year makes me feel good about being Chinese in a multi-racial society. It is also the start of a new cycle. While bracing for challenges, I am looking forward to blessings and being a blessing to others. On behalf of the Yun household, my mother, our help Siti and I, here is wishing you a Happy, Healthy and Wealthy Dragon Year. Kong Ye Wuat Sai, our greeting in Hainanese. Gong Xi Fa Cai!