We're still in the first month of the year and I feel as if so much has happened around us. A number of events recently caught our attention: a YouTube video of a forum held at a public university whereby a panelist displayed her ugly self by intimidating a student, seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong's confession to Oprah, the terrorist hostage incident in an Algerian gas plant, yesterday's Malaysian stock market plunge due to uncertainties created by the impending general election, and a six-year-old boy who has been missing for five days. Meanwhile, the weekend newspapers are plasterd with advertisements of sales of food, clothing, furniture, household items for the coming Chinese New Year of the Snake. Malls and supermarkets are blaring away CNY songs and displaying all the goodies on sale.
As usual, we celebrate festivals in a simple and quiet way. Unlike the more traditional families, we don't make it a point to spring clean, wash the entire house, change curtains and furniture, replace all things old with new ones, cook a ton of festive dishes or bake loads of cookies and cakes. This is all too overwhelming for me. Now that we are living in a larger home, it's even worse. I can't even keep up with the daily tidying let alone spring clean! I think this generation is one that is too caught up with consuming and accumulating material things and therefore, we have things cluttering the home.
It's different from the days of my parents' and grandparents' generation. Families were larger, lived closer to each other, lives were simpler. So when it came to festivities, everyone went all out to make it grand. The community spirit was greater then. They helped each other clean homes, paint walls, bake cookies, sew new clothes and cook. Back then, special dishes and delicacies were only enjoyed during festivals. I remember eating meat floss and dried barbecued meat ('bak kwa') during CNY but now you can get these anytime from a shop. There was no 'yee sang' to 'lou sang'. Roast duck, chicken, expensive fish and prawns were eaten only a few times a year. Now, you can eat them anytime. What was considered 'special' back then is now everyday fare.
But of course, the spirit of any festival should not just lie in the food, decor and having all things new, presents, angpows or whatever. It should be a time of celebration and thanksgiving for all the blessings we have received, our family, love, health, safety etc. That's how most festivals originate anyway and that's why whether it's a religious or cultural festival, people will include the act of worship and prayers as part of the celebration. According to history, the Chinese New Year was celebrated because people marked the spring and new year of planting crops, while legend also speaks of people rejoicing over the defeat of an evil monster that terrorised them after they made loud noises (hence firecrackers) to scare it away. Although Chinese New Year is a cultural festival, many Chinese also include worship and prayers in their activities. The Buddhists and Taoists visit temples and churches also hold special services, for example.
So in my opinion, it's good to know why we are celebrating a festival, and impart it to the next generation so that the knowledge and tradition will not be lost in this seamless, global, high-tech world where everyone seems to be celebrating everything, sometimes without realising its significance...