I once asked a Catholic friend of mine which festivity her family took more seriously, Christmas or Chinese New Year, and her reply was unhesitating: “Chinese New Year!”
It’s the time, apparently, that it’s almost guaranteed the whole family will get together.
When I was growing up, however, I knew very little about the festival. All I knew was that it was almost always very hot, and we didn’t have to go to school. And on its eve, the sound of firecrackers exploding late into the night.
It always thrilled me and my brothers although, I think it annoyed my parents no end.
In the 1960s and early 70s, Seremban pretty much came to a stop for at least a week during Chinese New Year. My mother used to hoard provisions before the fact; a practice generally followed by most of our neighbours.
And if you depended on your bicycle – as did all my friends – your goose was cooked if it suddenly developed a puncture during the period because the only bike-repair shop within walking distance of my house would inevitably be shut and remain so for a week.
I grew to admire such people after a while. I mean, the bike repair guy could not have been making much, but he was always cheerful and worked like crazy throughout the year so that he could enjoy a week with his family without worry.
You’ve got to admire such stoicism.
As I grew older, my high school classmates would occasionally invite us over. We used to go in bicycle packs: there’s courage in numbers.
Apart from the traditional cakes, there was always cold Orange Crush which even today I cannot drink without triggering some youthful memory.
And there were the salted melon nuts or the ubiquitous kwa chi. That stuff was positively addictive.
I’ve been married for a long time now and my wife’s family is a truly Malaysian mishmash, so we get invited to quite a few family reunion dinners.
The only difference is that the Orange Crush has been replaced by beer or something a lot stronger.
Which reminds me there is a lot to be said for Chinese New Year because it’s the only time you can buy beer at almost 30% discounts. I find this custom laudable and urge beer companies to extend this throughout the year because it will make for great corporate social responsibility.
When we were living in Section 6 in Petaling Jaya in the 1990s, we struck up enduring friendships, with some single neighbours and couples, that have lasted despite many of us moving to different neighbourhoods. A curious, if quirky, tradition also evolved out of it.
We don’t remember who started it, but we decided to adopt the festival because, among other reasons, my wife has some Chinese blood from her paternal grandmother.
So, we decided to have reunion pot-luck dinners, too, but on the day itself, and not its eve because one of us is a Chinese guy and he always spends the eve with his mother.
It’s been going on now for over 25 years and it’s been a lot of fun.
Happy Chinese New Year everyone.