Happy New Year!
Happy new year to you and yours. I wish you all good health, prosperity, and success upon your future endeavors. The year of the Monkey has now passed, and we welcome the Rooster!
Chinese New Year (or, more politically-correct and accurate, the Lunar New Year) has, and is still, one of my favorite holidays to celebrate. This year was much calmer because there was a lack of the matriarch–my mother. However, in her absence, my siblings came together and we cooked our own feast in her stead. While the food came nowhere near what my mother produces (and don’t worry, that will change fast in the next year as we will try to match her recipes), it was a very warm time to spend with my sisters. This is the first CNY for my two Monkey nephews Nathan and Ryan, and the second for my niece Abigail. This holiday has really started to come full circle, as my fondest memories about this day were from a child’s point of view. There are so many traditions that we practice, and so many more that will come when one day my own children will practice as well. Some of it is downright silly, but I still find it to be fun.
I remember receiving those little red envelopes full of money as a gift from my older relatives (the married ones are the ones who are supposed to give these out to the young and the single). I remember the anxiety of accepting these envelopes, collecting them as though they were little Pokemon cards, and running home to count the money I had “earned”. Of course, I was taught to never look at the money until I am at the private leisure of my room at home, because it was bad manners to open up the envelope to see what was in there. I enjoyed saving that money and spending it on a nice meal, or a new toy, or whatever I wanted to back them.
As I got older, I started to understand the symbolism imbued in each and every single tradition–even though some seemed very outrageous, I understand and can appreciate it. The red envelopes became less of a “how much money will I get this year” and more of a “dang, let me see how much my family appreciates me”.
Now, let me explain that last quote, because the statement without explanation can come off as very materialistic and rude. Everyone in my family comes from different financial backgrounds. Obviously, not everyone makes the same amount of money. So expectations whenever red envelopes come around are pretty set. My aunt, who is 60+, coming from Vietnam with very little understanding of English and working at a Chinese restaurant.. I do not expect much money. However, when she gifts $100+ to myself, my wife, and my sisters… it carries so much weight. Not “wow, she must really love me because she gave me so much money”, but “wow, she’s sharing that much of her wealth with me because she must love me”. It adds a responsibility to me when I receive gifts like that, and it is incredibly humbling as well. When people go above and beyond what they’re obligated to do, and what is expected… it does not go unnoticed. It hurts me to know that people like my aunt take a bigger hit when they give $100+ as a gift, but it also fuels me to make sure I always do them right–show proper appreciation and make myself worthy of their gift.
There’s so much symbolism and tradition built into this holiday. Whether it’s the silly refusal to wash your head so you do not wash away good fortune, or lighting incense to your elders, to wear new clothes to soak in the good luck, or trying not to argue on the start of the new year… there are so many good intentions and strong moral messages in all the traditions of the New Year.
So it makes me a bit saddened. I won’t be able to teach my students about this wonderful holiday this year.
The only real Asian people that my students ever deal with work for the local Chinese Take-Out restaurant. It’s nothing against them, but it’s a very limited amount of exposure for them. There are no other Asian teachers (except for this one other English teacher) in the building, and I do not expect my coworkers to expose the students to Asian culture (because sometimes, it just comes off so poorly). I want to have the honor and privilege of teaching my students about a holiday that isn’t celebrated officially by the U.S., despite the large population of the country that celebrates it. I want to teach them about a culture that exists that is far different from theirs (or even similar in values). I want to share with them a joyous part of my life and my memories so that they can apply its wisdom into their own.
But I can’t, because I’m still recovering from my eye surgery (which I didn’t write about, but I had emergency retinal detachment surgery late December). Another opportunity lost for me, and it sucks. I feel like I’ve failed them.