February 14 is Chinese New Year - the Year of the Golden Tiger.
While my memory fails me of the first six years of my life in China I remember vividly the Chinese New Year celebrations growing up in New York Chinatown in the 1980s. Eating lucky candies on New Year’s day. My mother’s cooking and table full of dishes all with names that sound like auspicious Chinese sayings. Fortune, happiness, longevity, prosperity. The hair seaweed (fat choy) with dried oysters (ho see) is “wealth and good business”. Lotus roots (lin ngau) is “abundance year after year”. Lettuce is “growing wealth". I would go around Chinatown, holding tightly to mom’s hands visiting many relatives and collecting lots of red envelopes. The sound and smell of firecrackers, dragon dancing on Mott Street made the holiday a real festive occasion.
Chinese New Year is so important in my family that even after my brother and I finished college and moved abroad, him to Shanghai, me to Paris - we would make the annual trek back to New York for the family reunion. The Americans have Christmas; we have Chinese New Year.
What future lies in upholding this ancient Chinese tradition? Growing up we embraced assimilation into American culture; our English is near perfect, our Chinese near illiterate. But other than the language, our whole attitude has changed. The more we work and travel abroad we acquire a global mentality. Many childhood friends and cousins who are married with kids have already decided to abandon this tradition. Some said money is an issue, there is mortgage to pay. There is no time; it’s too cumbersome. They live too far away from Chinatown. The list of reasons of choosing to not practice the tradition is long and various. As another Chinese New Year approaches, I am reminded of the fragility of preserving one’s heritage. The most important tradition in Chinese culture, it is hard to imagine my childhood without the Chinese New Year celebrations.