Lunar New Year: Family

As I’m writing this, I’m listening to a playlist on Spotify called “CHINESE NEW YEAR SONGS”. I don’t know why it’s in all caps, maybe Belinda_CSC was really excited when they were making the playlist. In any case, I am writing this to the tune of crashing cymbals, manufactured firecracker sounds, and traditional music.

Lunar new year is early this year – early February. It’s been the one constant in my life, even though the dates (if we’re going by the Gregorian calendar) aren’t ever constant. When I was little, we would go to Aunty Lina’s house for new year. Sometimes she’d have extra guests, but often it was the four of us, Aunty Lina, and her mum. I can’t remember what sort of food we had, but I remember the steep driveway Dad was always apprehensive about reversing down, the Scrabble games I would insist on playing (I got a little better every year), and Aunty Lina’s mum making origami frogs and entertaining us with them by jumping them across the table after dinner. My parents still have cassette tapes of New Year songs, and last year Dad asked me to put one on. I didn’t know they still had them, but of course they did.

Lunar new year is one of my favourite times of the year, but it’s complicated for me, because there’s so much history associated with it. My first serious boyfriend broke up with me when I was overseas for lunar new year. It’s supposed to be a time for family to be together, and I have always gone home to have dinner with my parents and my sister on new year’s eve, even when I could barely stand to be in the same room as Mum and Dad.

These Chinese New Year songs seem to all love B flat major, I think. B flats ring in my ears as I relive the nostalgia of watching Chinese New Year videos with my sister on our old VCR in our parents’ room upstairs. We watch the video every year. There is a woman in the troupe who has slanty eyes, and we pull our eyes skyward, naive to the fact that it is exactly this feature that many white people use to make fun of people who look like us.

But new year isn’t just about the food (on the night and also the food I get to take home afterwards) and the red packets. It’s about family – though I have been thinking about other forms of family for a while, especially after I moved out and my sister moved interstate.

I’m lucky enough to call some fantastic people my friends, and I have a wonderful partner. Some of my closest friends know more about my life and me in general than my parents. These are the people I want to spend my lunar new year’s eve with, but a filial sense of duty prevents me from doing so. The majority of them are also white, and I don’t know how to traverse the line of asking them to celebrate something that means so much to me as a person with the commercialisation and almost fetishisation of Chinese (and “Asian”) culture that happens around this time every year.

So every year I want to do something, and every year I don’t, because I’m afraid this family that I’ve created for myself won’t really truly understand what it means. That even though we don’t stay up until and count down the seconds until the new year, that there’s no midnight kiss, it really isn’t just another day in the year. Maybe I’m scared that this family won’t really get it, that I’ll be left alone out in the cold, again, and this time I’ll only have myself to blame.

Or maybe it’ll be enough just to be around people who I love and who love me in return. Maybe I won’t need strains of B flat inflected music and drums and cymbals to make me feel like I’m home.

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