It has been ages since I celebrated Chinese New Year with all its attendant ‘pomp and circumstance’. I remember what it was like as a child – three glorious days of being off school midterm and getting new clothes and shoes to wear. The search for new apparel could really begin during any time of the year, but as we were still young and growing, Mum and Dad never bought us new clothes and shoes more than three months in advance of the big holiday.
One year, an aunt bought my sister and I some lovely dresses for Christmas so that we could use them during Chinese New Year. We even got to choose them ourselves when Fourth Aunt took us to a swanky shop. Two young nieces not above the age of seven years and all these beautiful party dresses to choose from! It was like being in a candy shop for clothes!
My dress of choice was a pale yellow confection with a sash at the waist that would tie into a bow at the back. The material was just a touch stiff but it made the skirt stick out a bit which in turn made me feel grand – like an elegant ballet dancer with her tutu. (Incidentally, I was at that time still taking ballet lessons, so this style of dress with its puffed sleeves, pretty bodice, and mildly full skirt made me feel like a fairy princess.)
During Chinese New Year, it falls to the younger ones to visit older family members as a sign of respect and veneration for our elders. My father was the youngest in his family of seven and my mother the seventh child in a family of eight. Imagine that every family you visit must by tradition give you a red packet and offer propitious sweetmeats and fruits to wish you luck and prosperity for the coming year. For young children with large eyes and hollow legs, these visits were a wonderful treat!
Three days of such visits and one could save enough towards that much coveted toy! Moreover, our last day of New Year was always a special one. On that day, we would gather with all the extended family in my grandfather’s house and spend a day talking, laughing, and playing with our cousins. Better still: one of the older cousins or my boyish youngest uncle would take out the firecrackers and we would go set them off on the road outside the house. What fun it was!
New Year has never been important to me and my immediate family the way Christmas is, but the celebrations have always been very enjoyable nonetheless. Since leaving Singapore, I have often forgotten the dates of this moveable feast, although my sister is much better at remembering them year in and year out. We celebrate the event when we can by coming together to spend time with each other and to enjoy catching up with each other. My brother will also always try to cook something reminiscent of the food normally consumed during Chinese New Year for us all to share.
This year, as usual, I no inkling of the dates for Chinese New Year until I spoke with one of my cousins in New Zealand last night. She told me that Chinese New Year will take place at the end of the month. If I could, I would love to meet up with the rest of the family for a jolly time and a couple of celebration meals. Yum!
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