Rediscovering traditions one dumpling at a time!
Being born in the UK, and a child of immigrant parents (shhh, don’t tell Farage!), I’ve always been part of two cultures. Whilst I appreciate the gift of this shared heritage nowadays, this was definitely not the case when growing up. I don’t think any child wants to feel different do they?
Don’t get me wrong. I was never ashamed of my roots, but I definitely felt awkward because of them – a lot. Whether it was the side glances from strangers when my parents spoke Cantonese in public, or other children calling me names at school, I definitely felt different.
So when I left home for University I tried my best to be as “British” as possible. Nothing specific (I didn’t bleach my skin or die my hair blond or anything…well actually I did, and it turned out ginger…), but I certainly didn’t go out of my way to maintain any Chinese traditions either. There was a term that other Asian kids used to call people like me – “coconut” (brown on the outside, white on the inside) or “banana” (you can work this one out) – which I found quite unfair, because I definitely felt proud of my heritage, I just wanted to fit in! In any case, neither of those fruits really reflect my skin colour, if anything I’m probably more Maris Piper.
The point is, I was never bothered about things like Chinese New Year; but I always went a bit OTT with traditions like Christmas and Bonfire night instead (we once tore the fence down just to keep our bonfire going!). So when my father passed away, several years ago now, I was surprised that one of my many regrets was never making enough effort to participate in Chinese festivals with him and mum. This became even more poignant when realising that I remembered so little about my traditions that I wouldn’t be able to pass them on to the next generation. How crap would that be?
Since then, I made a promise to myself that I would improve my work-life balance and spend much more time with family and friends. This year was no different and I made sure I spent Chinese New Year with my Mum and sister. What better way to maintain these memories than to jot them down in my very own blog hey? Win!
Chinese New Year (CNY) spans 15 days of celebrations – Wikipedia actually goes through it all really well on a day-by-day basis! But the most important day is probably New Year’s Eve, when the whole family sits down for reunion dinner. It’s a bit like Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner I suppose, except that every dish has a symbolic meaning – think “Da Vinci Code Cook Book.”
Fish for “prosperity”, chicken for “family togetherness”, sea weed/fat choy for “wealth”, duck for “fertility”, noodles for “longevity” etc. There’s lots more, but here was our reunion feast this year:
In my family, the traditional red envelopes are given out after reunion dinner. These little red packets are usually given out by married couples to their children, and friends and family who are still single. They contain money (usually an even number) and are given out for good luck. My mum always used to get us to put them under our pillows and told us not to open them until the 15th day of CNY, though as it turns out this is not universal!
Another tradition for CNY is the making (and devouring!) of dumplings. Now strictly speaking this is a Northern Chinese tradition and my folks are from South China, but who doesn’t love a dumpling?! So this year, we started a new family tradition of making dumplings together!
I’m now looking forward to next year, when (hopefully) we’ll have a new baby joining us for CNY! I’m thinking fireworks.
Happy year of the Rooster everyone!