Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio in America, January was always a great melancholy expanse of a month, as depressingly white as the snow that piled around the house.
Sad little evergreens, once the beloved focal point of the season, would end up tossed unceremoniously beside the road for garbage collection soon after the New Year, while I secretly hoped for a few more weeks with the trees on display. Everyone would pull the plug on their merry Christmas lighting, and its absence on those dark and well-below freezing nights would lend even more of a chill to the neighborhood. And just the thought of another two months or more of winter was often enough to make my head ache, just like a bad after-Christmas hangover.
Sure, I loved that Christmas trailed the Winter Solstice by a few days, entertaining us through the longest nights of the year with family, feasts and fabulous presents. But what would get us through the long and often bitter winter weather ahead of us? (I’m not kidding about the “bitter” part — Cleveland, Ohio actually made the Forbes list of America’s worst winter weather cities).
Thank god I married a man from China, where January marks the start – not the end – of the holiday season.
Everywhere I go in Hangzhou, there’s a palpable sense of anticipation of what the Chinese consider the most wonderful time of the year. The other night, I caught a glimpse of a raucous end of the year banquet, where everyone wore a festive red scarf printed with Chinese characters around their necks as toasts were made among laughter and smiles. Supermarkets entice shoppers with glossy red Chinese New Year gift bags that shine like beautiful Christmas wrapping paper, each filled with the season’s must-have snacks, herbal remedies and spirits, the perfect gifts for relatives and friends you’ll visit during the holidays. Christmas trees, holiday lights and even Santa Claus himself continue to grace the malls, stores and public squares, a nod to the many Chinese friends who often think of Christmas as Chinese New Year in the West – borrowing those Christmas symbols to imbue the city with even more holiday cheer. My mother-in-law has spoken of how she plans to do another large batch of homemade tofu, and given the way her fried tofu melted in my mouth the first time I tasted it, I’m salivating just thinking about it.
With all of this joy, excitement and holiday spirit buzzing all around me, the January blues I used to know as a child don’t have a chance in the buildup to Chinese New Year.
I love the timing of the Chinese holiday season. We have a holiday to look forward to just when winter is at its worst. Plus, once it’s over, you needn’t wait long for Spring. People here call Chinese New Year “Spring Festival” and in Hangzhou, it actually lives up to its name – not long after the official end of the holidays, the golden rapeseed flowers start to bloom in the countryside.
Even better, all of this gives me an excuse to do the one thing I always wanted to as a child – keep that Christmas tree up through the winter (and, sometimes, a bit longer than anyone ever expected). 😉
Wishing you all a Happy New Year!
Has Chinese New Year helped ease your January blues?