When I was growing up, my hands-down top favorite holiday was Têt, or more commonly known as the Chinese Lunar New Year. More than Christmas, more than Halloween, more than my own birthday or the last day of school (which is, of course, of 'Holiday' status in any young impressionalbe little mind) I would anxiously wait for it to come and wonder why it couldn’t make up its mind and stick to one fixed day already.
There were all these traditional little rituals surrounding it: the bidding farewell to the Three Kitchen Gods the week before, who were believed to live in every household’s oven as to keep a keen eye on us during the year & report back to the Heavens (and who, once away, I always thought could not see us anymore, and therefore licensed everyone to act in a most unexemplary way, although unusually, I noted no such increase in crimes or misbehaviours during that week. Yes, the Asian Guilt is that powerful…); the big cleaning of the house to receive the New Year in stride; the picking of clementines from the pagoda tree, upon which is delivered our yearly fortune; the well-wishing to our elders who’d then give us in return little red envelops filled with monetary good luck (also my only steady source of income from the age of 7 to 16).
The family gatherings during Têt were particularly filled with craziness. Gambling, laughing and giggling and lots of screaming. We'd always fight for food, or to get ahead in line to wish my eldest aunt a good year (and really for the biggest envelop. Ahem), or be last with my sister because we’d never know what to say to our own parents (we’re not too good at expressing our feelings, always wanting to cry, y'see [from resignation and/or despair… Bah! I kid, I kid! Of course, nothing but love and gratitude, mum!... hahahah... I will be struck by lightning one of these days. Seriously.]). And then, of course, there is The Food.
Shrimp & Lotus Salad.
Sweet & Spicy.
Aren't they just perrrfect?
Best with lots of beer.
Fried Tofu with lemongrass.
Or, The Only Tofu I Eat.
How convenient it should be the Year of the Pig, innit? And there are heaps more too, but as it is fairly impossible to take pictures and have to win the fight for the last piece of fried lobster tail at the same time, i had to prioritize, you understand. It's a wonder i haven't burst through my new pants already, that's all i've gotta say.
But of all these celebrations, there is one particular reason that makes the New Year the crème de la crème of all holidays. When i was a kid, i used to love watching my mum prepare all the meals and all the minute attention she'd give to each superstitious detail. The gracious beholden humility she'd pray to the Heavens and Earth. To our ancestors... She took it all very seriously, and no matter what mood you were in, or whether you believed in a higher power or the Earth spirit or nothing at all, her attentive devotion was always enough to render a genuine purpose to it all.
And it still does. It is the only time in our household when everyone is completely silent. In a heedful quietness. Peaceful and febrile, ready to welcome the New Year.
When i was a kid, it was also the only time i could stay up past midnight, regardless of whether i had school the next day or not, just so i can be part of it all. It was a family thing. We'd tell eachother the same old stories again, and we'd laugh about it again. And having to be part of it once more, i realise it is still the only time when i feel like that exact same kid. Again. And why it is Reason Why I Love Being Asian #1.