Chinese New Year in the United States.
I don’t celebrate Chinese New Year. Well, okay, I do remember it, and I talk about it. I note that 2014 is the Year of the Horse. And I send red envelopes stuffed with dollars to my grandchildren. But I don’t really celebrate Chinese New Year.
In China, Chinese New Year is an enormous holiday, so you’d think that when my Chinese husband was alive, he would have insisted on celebrating it. But no. We never lived where Chinese New Year was celebrated. If we did remember, we gave hongbao (red envelopes) to our daughters, and sometimes we ate slices of nian gao (sticky rice cake) warmed and softened in a frying pan.
Nian gao isn’t a prize-winning delicacy in my book, but sticky rice cake is an ancient food with legendary appeal. It’s said to keep the Kitchen God’s mouth stuck shut so he can’t tell tales about humans to the Jade Emperor. Besides, nian gao means both “sticky cake” and also “taller year,” which I guess is better than shorter year. (The Chinese language is a treasure trove for punsters.)
The biggest celebration in Sedro-Woolley, WA, where I grew up, is the Loggerodeo on the 4th of July. The whole town celebrates with a carnival, rodeo, fireworks, a logging show, beard-growing contest, kiddie parade and finally the Grand Parade, a procession of floats, prancing horses, high school bands and bagpipers, souped-up cars and shined up logging trucks.
When we lived in the Philippines and later in Vanuatu, there were no fireworks or parades on the 4th of July. It was like any other day unless some Americans decided to throw a party.
Halloween and UN Day in Manila
Filipinos do celebrate All Hallows’ Eve, but not by trick-or-treating. On October 31st, the eve of All Saints’ Day (November 1st) and again on the eve of All Souls’ Day (November 2nd), they visit the graves of their departed loved ones. If we had dressed our kids up like ghosts and witches or superheroes or princesses when we lived there and sent them to knock on our neighbors’ doors and threaten them with a trick if they didn’t get some candy, I doubt that the neighbors would have understood.
American Thanksgiving abroad
We celebrated Thanksgiving a couple of times when we lived abroad, a scaled-down affair with a few American friends and a couple of stuffed chickens. Most years, though, we ignored it—which may sound sad. It wasn’t really. Giving thanks is a year-round activity, and homeleave was our big chance to gather with our families. Homeleave may not have been a holiday, but it lasted longer than just a few days.
It takes a community.
My older grandchildren are studying Mandarin, so for Chinese New Year I sent them each a red banner, hoping they can use it for a class party. I sent my youngest grandchild a lantern, thinking he can bring it to show-and-tell.
I think I’ll go back to Ranch 99 and buy something for my critique group. We’re meeting in a couple of days. Then, even though we’re not in China, we can celebrate together, just a bit.