Chinese New Year survival guide for “Chinese”

Photo by Carole Browne

Raised by traditional Chinese parents, I've always passed Chinese New Years with friends and family. Even with a strong cultural influence growing up, I’m embarrassed to admit having asked Google to explain what “Chinese New Year” is. Having celebrated this holiday nineteen times, I thought I’d have a plethora of information and heart warming experiences to share with readers.

 “Sorry - no, I don’t speak Chinese”. Yet year after year, I manage to wish friends and family members a  “Gung Hai/Hey/Hay Fat Choi” (Prosperous New Year), “Sun Tai Kin Hong” (Good Health) and mumble through “Tsing Shun Sheng Chu” (Forever 21)- arguably the most difficult tongue twister. 


Chinese New Year for children

To Chinese children, Chinese New Year is simply another version of Christmas. Wishing grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends also known as aunts and uncles a Prosperous New Year, Good Health and to be ‘Forever 21’ would put us on the “good list” and deserving of red envelopes. Then, younger children would begin to fidget, impatient to open their presents. Instead of shaking boxes to cure them of curiosity, they would run into another room and hold it up to a light fixture hoping the envelope paper was thin enough to read which dollar bill it could be hiding. 

For children, the significance of this holiday hardly stretches beyond the red envelope. They get to wear traditional Chinese clothing - red, gold, or black silk suits and dresses. Sometimes, elementary schools will set aside afternoons to celebrate Chinese New Year - embracing the nation’s multiculturalism with Lion dances. 

 Chinese New Year for adults

As all adults eventually come to realization of the true meaning of a holiday, Chinese New Year is no different. Deserving of its fifteen day span, Chinese New Year is also known as Lunar Year, as it kick starts the beginning of a new Lunar Year. Like many other cultural holidays, Chinese New Year is a time specifically for family and close friends. To end the year and begin the new year with loved ones. 

The lunar year is tied in with the Chinese horoscope, which makes predictions for the new year as well as predictions for those who bear the horoscope animal. According to the Chinese horoscope, the year 2012 will bring about many surprises. It is the year of the Dragon, an animal paralleled to the emperor as a symbol of power, rule and superiority. It is forecasted to be a great time to take on new challenges and risks as the dragon is sometimes unpredictable and will bring about changes.

 Desensitized to multiculturalism

Personally, I found that as I grew older, I conformed more to my Western surroundings. There's nobody to blame for this shift. I'm happy to have been raised in such community, a place where  multiculturalism is celebrated: Canada. Society then tries its best to celebrate and educate major cultural holidays with dignity and respect such as Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali and Chinese New Year. Specifically to Chinese New Year, local caucasian business owners or politicians air commercials wishing the Chinese community “Gung Hay Fat Choi”. They are both received as a respect for Chinese culture, but at the same time it subject to criticism if considered done in bad taste or its political motive. The difficulty in juggling


Responsibilities of Multiculturalism

As a first generation Canadian, I feel at fault for not seeing the future responsibility of passing on my cultural background to the next generation. A strong sense of multiculturalism calls for a commitment through education by those of strong ethnic roots. Like the children, I passively walk through the weeks of Chinese New Year, seeing the holiday as an extension of Christmas. In fact, Chinese New Year is a celebration of a fresh start, with a prosperity as the foundation of opportunities for the new year. 

Eventually, it’ll be my generation’s turn to take leadership of the celebration in our own families. But with the rate of awareness declining at such a fast rate, will anyone know what to celebrate? 

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