Xin Nian Kwai Le! Happy New Year!

January 30, 2012 in North America, Travelogue, United States

My fingers were so cold I couldn’t knit while we walked. That’s cold.

Instead, I held my friend’s little son by the hand and we wandered the crisp afternoon, lost in the crowd. He bounced at the end of my arm like a ping-pong ball, little blond head bobbing and then shooting up high in imitation of the lion dancers that beat the traditions of a far away culture into the streets of Boston with the rhythms of brass gongs and cymbals.

The boys plugged their ears and lit up their eyes as fire crackers echoed their sizzling pops between the tall buildings and added to the litter on the street by slamming their hand tossed paper poppers into the asphalt. Ezra bought himself a lucky coin to add to his necklace of treasures.

We’ve never been to China, not yet anyway. Nonetheless, we celebrated Chinese New Year this year. Perhaps because it’s the year of the dragon, and my kids are enthralled with dragons, the festival called more loudly to us this year. Since we’re lucky enough to be near a city with a Chinatown, we grabbed the only friends we have handy who’ve actually lived in China (Great Family Escape) and took the train into the city.

I love the sensation of diving into a crowd, feeling completely foreign and reaching out with my senses to ground myself to the world. Swimming in a cacophony of sounds and languages, smells and flavors, being whisked forward around grandmothers carrying bags of cabbages and children, faces sticky with sweet things toward the sound of drumming and the kaleidoscope of colored flags cracking against a Ming blue sky.

As so often happens I floated above myself, watching the world and me in it. Watching old men laugh and little children, eyes wide with wonder, as the dancing lions were fed lettuce (for luck) and oranges (for wealth) and the produce was tossed heavenward from their gaping mouths as firecrakers cracked and drums continued to beat and the dancers worked their way through Chinatown, dancing at the doors of each business, on every street.

“Xin Nian Kwai le!”

Happy New Year! Our friend Heidi had wished us as we’d arrived at their flat. Happy New Year indeed. Chinese New Year isn’t celebrated the same day every year. It’s based on a much older calendar than our western one.

I thought about this as I wrapped cold fingers around a warm teacup at a crowded table in a dusty corner of Chinatown. The children tapped chopsticks on the table and chattered about brightly coloured things. We tucked into dumplings and stuffed buns, lotus leaf wrapped delicacies and sweet tapioca delights that looked like masses of congealed fish eggs, spring rolls, piles of brown, savory noodles and fried bits of chicken next to steamed pork and cabbage rolls. Justin ordered too much food, and we thanked him for it.

Every day begins a New Year, celebrated officially or not.

Every day we make offerings of some sort of lettuce for luck, or something looking nothing at all like oranges for wealth. We toss it all to the sky every morning, add in the random fireworks of life and let the dust settle where it may. At the end of every day we’re left to sweep up the bits of red paper, push the rotting things toward the gutters and, we search the debris for the lucky coin; the brass one with the hole in the middle that we string on our necklace, just like Ezra, to remind us that we are, indeed, lucky to be alive, lucky to have food to celebrate the day, and to have survived the festivities of life without blowing off a finger. Sometimes we do blow off a finger. Does that mean we never light fireworks again? I hope not.

This morning we’re all tired; worn out from our adventures in Chinatown. But it’s still a new day, a new year, just like yesterday. Just like January 1st. It’s a day to begin again, to make some noise, to throw a little party for the sheer joy of living and to remember how very lucky we are to be here, in the year of the dragon, with lettuce and oranges aplenty in our lives. At least for today.