I recently read that traditions are great for kids, because they get to anticipate a series of events & activities that happens in the same sequence year after year. The anticipation is what creates the excitement, but in a different way than doing something new. Knowing that a holiday follows the same template annually is how years become connected to each other and how we become part of the larger story of our culture & family, generation after generation, and how we reach into the past & into the future, holiday after holiday.
Since leaving home at the age of 17, I’ve only spent one Chinese New Year back in Taiwan with my family. It’s a big deal to not be there, because it is the equivalent to America’s Thanksgiving as the holiday you go home. Traditionally, a woman would move to live with her husband’s family after getting married. Chinese New Year was the one time of year she got to return to her own parents.
So, I’ve had to create traditions I could do without family. When I was single, I often sent out combo CNY/Valentine’s cards; I loved that the color red was symbolic for both Good Luck & Love.
But the only tradition that has stood the test of time has been an annual dinner with my cousin Lily & good friend Christina. My cousin is a year older than me, & we have been besties since we were old enough to write snail mail to each other about Duran Duran & the boys we liked. Christina & I have known each other since she was in 8th grade & I in 9th. She moved to Los Angeles from New York in 2003, & we have had some ridiculously great times together (FUN = red wine + chocolate + convos). I’ve also lived with both women, & in doing so, I really think we’ve forged friendships that are as close as family.
In 2008, we met for dinner at a restaurant called Hunan Taste on San Vicente for Chinese New Year. Then we did it again the next year. And the next. We wore red, gave each other hong bao’s, ate double orders of Crispy Walnut Shrimp, & talked & caught up. These two women are among my closest friends, & having this one night we meet without question has been comforting to me in a really fundamental way. In a life & world without many traditions I find meaningful, this one is something I can count on. I think our commitment to this one dinner somehow reminds me that I’m important to them; that without family around, someone is still watching out for me.
We’ve had this dinner without children. Then with one, my first. Then with two. Then with three, & four. We used to eat dinner at 7 PM, like normal adults. But with the addition of babies, we started eating at 5 PM. It’s actually great, because the restaurant isn’t busy, & we leave just as it starts filling up.
I’m still surprised every time I go to a Chinese restaurant, & my parents or grandparents aren’t the ones at the helm, ordering the food. When Christina, Lily & I go, we’re the grown-ups now, with our own parents far away both physically & metaphorically. Our kids are like cousins to each other, & these women are “home” to me. I feel an abundance of luck when we’re all sitting around the lazy-susan, circle table, wearing our requisite red, catching up, & trying to keep the kids busy & happy & fed. This year was the first year two of us met up without the third. But we plan to do a make-up dinner, because I’m pretty sure breaking tradition–even a modern one you made up yourselves–displeases the ancestors. 😉
The restaurant changed hands a couple years ago, & now it’s called Hunan Tasty. We laugh about the “y” that was added to the sign, the letter showing up darker in blue than the rest of the words. I think that’s what it’ll always be like, if we’re lucky: Little changes will happen when we don’t expect them, but we’ll keep showing up to laugh about them together. ❤
Chinese New Year Fun Facts: Dragons or Lions? Can’t tell the lion dancers from the dragon dancers? Here’s a little tutorial!
What modern traditions has your family created–especially if family is far away?