The joys and hassles of family reunions are universal.
By Dulce Zamora
The holidays may be over for a lot of people, but for at least twenty percent of the world, the most important festivity of the year is just about to begin. In 2020, Chinese New Year falls on January 25 and 26. The date of this holiday varies annually because it is based on the lunar calendar (as opposed to the Gregorian solar calendar, which is more familiar to us.)
For Americans who don’t know what a big deal this is, Chinese New Year is like Christmas, New Year, Thanksgiving, Easter, and the Fourth of July, all rolled into one. In fact, it is a 15-day celebration. Several countries recognize the event, designating anywhere from one to seven days as official public holidays. Here in Singapore, we get two days off, whereas in China, it is a seven-day break. Other countries that officially observe the Lunar New Year include Taiwan, Macau, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Mauritius, Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea, Suriname, Thailand, and Bhutan.
A big chunk of Asia shuts down during this time. When we first moved to Singapore in 2007, we went to Vivocity, the biggest mall in the country, and every single store was closed, but the mall was still full of families just hanging out in the open space and air conditioning. These days, some restaurants and a small number of shops will likely be open, but most businesses will still be off.
Basically, people go home to eat and hang out with family and friends. It’s a time for reunion. (Locally, you can see this by the sheer number of shoes outside homes. Folks in these parts commonly leave their footwear outside the house.) Getting together with loved ones is such a big deal that the forty days surrounding Chinese New Year is known as the largest human migration in the world. In China, where a sizable amount of the rural population works in cities, an estimated three billion passengers are expected to travel by planes, trains, ferries, and cars.
And just like at many family gatherings around the world, people serve a lot of food and people bring edibles as gifts during this time. This means that grocery stores are busy and can run out of stuff, and shops selling things like dried fruits, dried meats and seafood, and sweets can have crazy long lines. The last couple of weeks in Singapore, almost every staple at our favorite butcher store has been out of stock. They don’t expect new inventory to come in until after the holidays. It may not be an issue where you get your chicken, but at our house, with finicky eaters, the kids notice and I have to remind them how lucky we are to get food at all.
Hair and nail salons are busy, too. In fact, I tried to get my nails done yesterday, but the usual place I go to said they were fully booked for the week. So I went around to different salons in the mall and saw the Chinese New Year surcharges attached to regular prices. If you want to look pretty before seeing your family, you need to pay an extra $6 to $20! Apparently, people didn’t mind (or were willing to fork out the money) because the beauty places were buzzing with activity. Luckily, I found a salon that didn’t impose their added fees until the next day. So, now I have pretty nails, but I’m not taking the 18-hour flight to see my family in California or New York any time soon.
It was so lovely to see my parents, siblings, cousins, and best friends around Christmas and the Solar New Year. Even though the temperature was a lot cooler in the San Francisco area compared to Singapore (but not nearly as cold as the rest of the U.S.), being around people who love you is like a cozy warm blanket.
Of course I also get the usual comments about my weight (‘Oh, you’ve gained weight!,’ or ‘You’ve slimmed down!’), and the guilt trips (‘Why do you want to live so far away from your mom and dad?’ or ‘Your poor parents don’t get to see their grandkids.’) But I’ve also come to know that my mission and lot in life has nothing to do with my love for my family and friends. I make a great trek at least once a year to see them, and I would do it more often if I could.
So, for this Lunar New Year, I raise my cup of cha to my Asian kin.
[Did you know that cha means “tea” in my native Philippine dialect, Kapampangan? Most all of words for tea in the world derive from cha, te, and chai, all with roots to the Chinese tea-drinking culture. But I digress.]
喜发财 / 恭喜發財 (Gōngxǐ fācái!), which means “Happiness and Prosperity” in Mandarin.
© 2020 Windswept Wildflower