“Will you have time off for Chinese New Year?” Even though my father-in-law had retired more than 10 years before, he asked this question to us this past Saturday night with all of the wonder of a young child during the holidays.
“No, the semester already started,” John said.
“They gave us vacation for Christmas, not for Chinese New Year,” I added. “Christmas is the big holiday in America.”
“Oh,” my father-in-law said, with a voice that dropped off in surprise.
But he’s not alone. Every time we’ve called our Chinese friends back in Hangzhou, the “vacation during Chinese New Year” idea invariably sneaks into the conversation. And every time we tell them, no, there is no such thing in the US, they answer with astonishment.
Why wouldn’t they? My father-in-law and my husband’s friends in China all grew up in a world where everyone celebrated Chinese New Year. For them, the holidays meant tables stacked with all of the stir-fried delicacies they dreamed of all year long, family, red envelopes for the kids, and a blitzkrieg of fireworks all over town.
When I finally experienced Chinese New Year for the first time in 2002, even I was taken aback by its fire and ferocity. Where was this festival and why had I missed it my entire life?
So now here we are in the Mountain West, in a world where Chinese New Year is nothing more than a flicker, where everyone is far more worried about the big American football championship at the end of the month. Still, I made a dinner of spring rolls, eight-treasures rice, red-braised pork, homestyle tofu, and bok choy with shiitake mushrooms. We toasted to an auspicious year of the dragon as “Descendants of the Dragon,” sung by Wang Lee Hom, echoed in the background.
Now, if only we had a little vacation for Chinese New Year.
(Happy Year of the Dragon!)
For those of you growing up with Chinese New Year, were you surprised when you discovered it wasn’t celebrated everywhere? For those of you who discovered Chinese New Year later on, were you surprised you never delighted in in this holiday before?