My family and I have never been very big on celebrating festivals and traditions.
I blame this partly on my disconnected upbringing, having spent the first few years of my life in Beijing and then making the big move to New Zealand as a rather confused four year old. I didn’t believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny because they had not made an appearance in my life – ever, up until that point. And when all the other children were still expecting presents and preparing their plates of milk and cookes for Santa, we were living in a house with no chimney… so I was a bit skeptical about the whole ‘big bearded man dressed in red coming down the chimney’ ordeal.
The Western festivals were more about getting days off school than anything else. Easter has always meant a road trip away over the long weekend.
I don’t feel any particular attachment to the Chinese festivals either, and the atmosphere that you get celebrating things like the New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival with your extended family was missing when our family of three packed up home and shifted it halfway across the world. These cultural festivals became associated with a particular event (Lantern Festival in Albert Park, for example) or a particular food that I would look forward to eating. Today just so happens to be the Mid-Autumn Festival and it’s a tradition to gift (and also eat) mooncakes.
Lotus paste with egg yolk (which is meant to represent the moon, by the way) is my hands-down favourite.
I sometimes feel like festivals are quite redundant, and are more a way of encouraging commerce than to serve any good social purpose. The modern day image of Santa Claus is a creation of Coco-Cola. The exchange of gifts during festivals in China is always a complex and tiring operation. And what do chocolate eggs have to do with Easter anyway?
Yet one of the things that I have come to really appreciate is the bringing together of people in order to celebrate together. My visit to China in 2010 was my first experience (that I can actually remember, of course) of being amongst the chaos the occurs during Chinese New Year. As migrant workers find their way homes back to their families for Chinese New Year, China experiences its biggest migration (and logistical headache) of the year. The New Year tradition is very much alive and well, and to celebrate it at a dinner where many generations of a family come together to have a thoroughly good time – no matter how difficult the year may have been for each of them – is something to be treasured.
In a world where moving has never been easier, and with people all living their individually busy lives, I guess festivals still stick around as one of those rare opportunities to have the whole family at the same dinner table again. I still try and write a whole stack of Christmas cards every year, to take the opportunity to thank and express my gratitude to the people around me. I know that like family dinners, if I didn’t have a festival pushing behind me, many much due words would go unspoken.
Happy Mid-Autumn Festival, and may you cherish the day and the important people in your life.