‘Gung hay fat choy to all my Chinese family & friends!’ my sister-in-law in Los Angeles posted this morning on Facebook.
She adds that her Chinese-Hawaiian mother-in-law cautions her not to sweep the floor today, Chinese New Year's Day, lest she sweep away her good fortune for the year.
It’s the year of the Rabbit, and were we living in California still, we would be surrounded by reminders of the occasion. As it is, it had gone out of my head until I read her greeting this morning. It is not a holiday widely celebrated in Austria.
Nor is Groundhog’s Day – which was yesterday – marked, though there are traditions concerned with predicting the weather that, I assume, date back to pagan times and were later subsumed within the Christian calendar.
I thought this morning how traditions I had always marked in the U.S., since childhood, have nearly disappeared from my awareness. Chinese New Year was in the forefront of our consciousness. As a teenager living 40 miles south of San Francisco, it was a treat to go into the city’s Chinatown early every February for the New Year’s Parade.
We would park the near Portsmith Square and emerge into the night and push through the throngs toward Grant Avenue. Red decorations were everywhere. Shop windows shone with bright silks and coloured slippers, paper umbrellas, kites, bowls. In some windows hung desiccated fowl and stacked tins of tea. All around us crowded people celebrating loudly.
The sharp blasts of firecrackers exploding also surrounded us. Crack, crack, crack – they exploded in sharp bursts at our feet, terrifying me – head stuffed full of horror stories of eyes blinded and hands blown off – and leaving a litter of blacked red confetti-like shards.
Under the streetlights, the crowds got denser, shoving and surging, writhing almost as a single beast off the sidewalk and into the street, as the shrill jangle of bells grew louder. We craned our necks, peering over heads and through gaps in the bodies, excitement mounting as we looked for the Dragon.
For that was the climax of the parade, the Golden Dragon, its oversized painted and decorated head bobbing and turning this way and that, as its body – scores of pairs of feet emerging from under a red cloth dozens of metres long – twisted and wound, leaping and lunging, through the crowded street.
BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! I thrilled with fear and delight as hundreds of firecrackers exploded in rapid succession, marking the passage of the Dragon and the beginning of the New Year.
So thank you, Nola, for reminding me of Chinese New Year. Gung Hay Fat Choy to you. And thank you, Aileen, for reminding me to be careful about the year’s coming fortune. My floors will go upswept today.