Happy New Year to all the people who follow the lunar calendar!
Growing up in Calcutta, now renamed Kolkata, India, the Chinese New Year celebrations meant a great deal to me. Like Christmas is to the Western culture, this is the one annual bash that all the Chinese kids look forward to all year long. What makes this event so unique in Kolkata is how the Hakka Chinese has kept the tradition alive despite living away from their homeland in China for over a hundred years.
We were a close-knit community. We lived in a suburb called Tangra in Kolkata. There are still some of our folks left in Tangra. Most of us are now dispersed all over the world, predominantly in North America. Tangra was in its heydays when I was child.
I remember the excitement for the Chinese New Year festivities would start to build weeks before the actual day. Many boys, teens and even adults formed bands for the lion’s dance. Each group made or bought a colourful paper mache lion’s head with a flowing mane and tail. One person held the head while another, the tail. They pranced and danced to drumbeats and cymbals clinking and clanking. The teams practiced for the big day when they would go from house to house showing off their prowess. The procession of the lions would begin sometime after midnight on New Year’s Day.
The big incentive for this night-long celebration was the red lucky pockets of cash doled out to the lion’s dance teams at every house. In addition to being allowed to stay up all night, the kids came away richer. Their pockets were already full from the lucky money their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles handed out to them. New Year’s was a lucrative time for the children.
When I recall those memories, I’m filled with nostalgia. I long to recapture that childish enthusiasm for this wonderful occasion. But as an adult, the wonder is long gone. Caught in the mundane living and doing, I try to keep some of the traditions alive for our kids here in Canada. They will never truly experience Chinese New Year celebrations, Tangra style, but Christmas is a good substitute.