Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Changing Reason for Chinese New Year Celebration

Nowadays Chinese New Year is celebrated for a very different reason than that of our forefathers. Back in ancient China it was called the Spring Festival, celebrated to welcome spring after a very cold wintry season especially in the north, central and western provinces where many people, especially those who are poor and living with bare necessities, waited for the snow to melt, the sun to rise and the new leaves and flower buds to bloom, and the birds to greet the new days with hearty chirps and songs. Spring was indeed a time to celebrate. It represented victory over the dark days of winter and people were glad to have survived through those months. It was, and still is a season of hope, renewal and newness where families seek to wear new clothing and shoes, spend new money, eat new food and fire crackers to chase away the gloom and welcome in light and joy. It is not surprising therefore that the Spring Festival became the New Year for the Chinese and soon people began to call it the Lunar New Year or to those western educated, the Chinese New Year.

From a celebration of rejoicing of a new life into a new season, the CNY in modern time is no longer celebrated with this in mind since many Chinese families have eradicated poverty and sufferings and have through industry, prudence and patience, brought about prosperity to their children and grandchildren. Instead the CNY is celebrated with a time of spending what they have earned and saved through hard work. It is also a time to splurge on themselves, family and relatives, implicitly to show that they are well off. As with other cultures where migration into the cities took place in search for opportunities and wealth, families are dislocated, especially old parents and those siblings who either refuse to move into the cities or are not qualified academically to find their future in the vast urban complexes that can be frightening and alienating to those so familiar to rural settings. Hence the concept of reunion was born out of necessity to touch base, to meet up with dear ones back in their home towns or villages where the new city migrants have now return home in big cars and new fashionable clothing to visit their parents and siblings and hand over fat angpows (red packets) in their annual pilgrimage home. Nowadays Chinese New Year is just another opportunity and occasion to break away from work, go back to their roots, or to some better off financially, go holidaying in faraway places, perhaps to escape having to distribute red packets! This mass migration have also affected the non-Chinese who take similar advantage to 'balik kampong' or 'go back to the village' and the coming week will see roads and highways clogged with motorcycles, cars and coaches heading out of the cities into the villages, and then the reverse nightmare when it become 'balik rumah' or 'back to the homes' as the holiday break ends. Perhaps this trend will lessen in the next 10-20 year or so when aged parents either move out of their family house in the villages to live with their city children or grandchildren, or die off. Then the reason for 'balik kampong' become less relevant (except during the Ching Ming or All Souls Day season around late March/early April, but that is another story, another moment to also die off one day) and the mass exodus that is a Malaysian mad rush culture as much as in China, where highways and trains are choked with returnees to their home villages, or in the west when people get away in summer in droves. So it is a universal habit for people to get away. A thought to think further why are they so migratory.

From welcoming spring the CNY season has become one to re-establish family ties and sometimes, to meet up with old friends and former classmates who are returning to their hometowns for the common purpose of reunion. In this regard I think the Old Pupil Association of my alma mater in Sitiawan had done right in organizing the traditional OPA reunion on the evening of the first day of the CNY in the school hall. Being a lifetime member I try to make it there when I am home to see my mother at that time. Although the number of former classmates have sprinkled to just a handful it is still good to see each other in relatively good health and high spirit. We are now the rare species among the much younger 'graduates' and their children.

I will be on the road during the coming days. And I wish to take this opportunity to greet my readers who celebrate the Chinese New Year, Kung Xi Fa Cai, and may you have health, wealth, peace and prosperity this Year of the Dragon. Have a happy heart and keep well.

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