Chinese New Year’s Eve – February 8th 2005 – the year of the rooster
“How long will we have off classes for Chinese New Year? Will we have big celebrations in the student accommodation building? Should I bring back decorations from China?” Mei Lin is a Chinese student here in Australia and she asked these questions before returning home to China for the Christmas holidays. Already, she was planning for the festival which, for her, is far more important than Christmas.
‘Chinese New Year’, or the ‘Spring Festival’ as it is often known, is the biggest, the most important holiday and the happiest time of year in Mei Lin’s home country. Mei Lin’s family will be busy preparing for weeks ahead. Sadly, Mei Lin will have returned to Australia just a fortnight earlier and will be in class, writing assignments, attending extra-curricular activities, and in general, living up to her reputation as an exceptionally diligent student. She will be conscious that her parents are a world away, celebrating with many relatives. They, on the other hand, will be desperately missing their one and only child, yet confident that they’re doing their best to provide her with a bright future.
Back in China, Mei Lin’s family will clean their house from top to bottom, in order to sweep out all remnants of the year that has past and prepare to welcome in happiness and good fortune in the new year. They will hang red banners with lucky words around their doorway to signify to the world that they are a blessed and happy family. (If, however, there had been bereavement in the family during the past three years, they’d hang up white banners or none at all.) The streets will be decorated beautifully and colourful lanterns hung in every shop window. Magnificent lantern displays will be mounted outside businesses and shopping malls. Red packets of cash will be prepared by the adults to give to the children in their neighbourhood or extended family.
On the eve of the Chinese New Year, in her paternal grandfather’s home, Mei Lin’s family will sit together, making delicious dumplings. Finally, late in the evening, the family will feast together on the dumplings, apples, oranges and other delicacies. The emphasis will be on round foods to remind them of that unbroken ring, of the unity of their family. As they eat, chat and laugh together, they’ll also watch the countdown and festivities on TV.
As midnight approaches, the whole nation counts down … five … four … three … two … one … Happy New Year! Fireworks go off all around the neighbourhood (even if, strictly speaking, they are forbidden inside the city limits). The fireworks on TV broadcast from Beijing are absolutely spectacular.
That’s in China. Down here in Australia, some Chinese students will join with others for a party. Other Chinese people will celebrate with relatives. Mei Lin, however, will sit quietly in her room, thinking of her family, of her community … she will be one lonely young lady indeed.
As a foreign teacher in China, I’ve been privileged to be a guest in a number of homes on this, the most important festival of the year. My friends pity me because my family is on the other side of the world. (They cannot comprehend that my family members are quite unaware of the significance of our separation on this important night!) During the two weeks following Chinese New Year, like my Chinese friends, I’ve gone visiting and have received many visitors. I usually take a gift of round biscuits or cakes – my friends enjoy the western cooking and the roundess still portrays unity! It is a wonderful holiday, a time where friendship, happiness and love is felt in almost every home … and one which Mei Lin will be extremely sad to miss.
There are many young women like Mei Lin living in Australia these days. Perhaps we could reach out in friendship to the ‘Mei Lins’ in our community. You will never quite replace their own family members, and of course, you probably don’t want to sit up all night making dumplings. However, if you make the effort to reach out in friendship, to show hospitality, and to demonstrate a genuine interest in their culture and home country, you’ll make a real difference in the life of perhaps one lonely person. What’s more, you might even make more than just a difference … you may develop an enriching friendship, perhaps even one which will last for eternity.