Monday, February 3, 2014

马年快乐!Happy Year of the Horse!

(A version of this post was originally posted here on my more professional blog.)

Being back in the US for Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) has been odd for both my wife and I. For her, it's the first time she's ever been away from her family over Spring Festival. For me, I simply miss a festival that had become such an important part of my life. Last Thursday night I even ended up watching performances from the CCTV Spring Festival Gala (春晚) on Youtube with my eldest son. The family eating together at the end of this performance made me cry.

Making jiaozi during a Spring Festival of yesteryear.

I thought for this post I'd simply share a few things that I love, or at least miss, about Chinese New Year in China. These are in no particular order.

1. Baijiu (白酒) with the menfolk

Foreigners tend to unfairly bash baijiu (Chinese "white" liquor) to no end, and I admit that it took effort for me to acquire a taste for the stuff. Nevertheless, drinking with my father-in-law and other male relatives had become a highlight of every holiday and birthday celebration. It bonded us together. It's when I really felt one with them, and I may be so bold as to say it's when they felt most at home with me. Effect of mild intoxication? Hardly. I'll give the simple explanation people gave me: This is Chinese culture. If you really dive into Chinese culture, you'll find that is really the perfect explanation.

2. Fireworks

OK, I don't really miss the fireworks. I mean, between the air pollution, the 5:00 a.m. (if you're lucky) wakeup call, and the constant use that makes one crazy on about day four, it's not really something I could miss. Still, not a single firework? Not even one?! It's a bit disappointing. 真扫兴!

3. Preserved meats (腊肉)

Not only did I miss meat-hanging season, but now I don't get to eat any myself! 非常扫兴!

4. Big family dinners

Not all Chinese families are large, but my wife's is. Aside from New Years Eve, when it was just us, her parents, her brother, and her brother's wife, Spring Festival dinners usually hosted no less than 20 people. Day after day, home after home, dinner after dinner. Eventually I grew sick of all the food and renao, but I miss being a part of it. In the words of Joni Mitchell (or glam metal band Cinderella), "You don't know what you've got, till [sic] it's gone."

5. Seeing the joy on my wife's face and on the faces of the children (mine and others')

Last Friday morning I asked my wife if she wanted to stay here on Saturday and make jiaozi (Chinese dumplings) with my family or go to the Chinese church to celebrate with them. Eventually she decided to stay home and teach my family how to make jiaozi. We made filling, made the wraps, and made the jiaozi all while listening to the CCTV Spring Festival Gala. Eventually she remarked that she finally felt a little of the Chinese New Year spirit. Before that moment, I had mourned that the Spring Festival delight that had always been present in previous years was not in her eyes this year. Not seeing her delight gave me a sense of loss, as well. At least I saw a glimmer Saturday evening.

Making jiaozi this year.

So, readers: If you've experienced Chinese New Year but are spending Spring Festival 2014 abroad, what do you miss?

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