As development dawns, New Year customs wane
Published: Feb 01, 2019 06:58 PM

Illustrations: Peter C. Espina/GT

I bought my one-and-a-half-year-old son a pop-up book titled Happy Chinese Lunar New Year. With three-dimensional pages, colored illustrations, a Chinese Lunar New Year bustling with festive joy is vividly revealed. The book covers all the customs, traditions and celebrations of the festival, including cleaning the house, decorating windows and doors with red paper-cuts and couplets, family reunion dinner on new year eve, playing with fireworks, wearing new clothes, and giving kids money in red paper envelops, to name a few. 

The creative and interactive pop-ups not only amused my toddler, but also fascinated me. I had almost forgotten the Chinese New Year is so fascinating and lively. 

As one of those born after 1980, my generation of Chinese might have the best ever memory of celebrating the lunar new year in a traditional way. I spent my childhood in a small village in East China's Shandong Province. Before the Spring Festival, normally on the 24th day of the last lunar month, the traditional cleaning day, I helped make the house squeaky-clean. On the first day of the new year or shortly after, I wore new clothes and shoes, visited elders and relatives with my parents, wishing them happiness during the new year and getting red envelops containing cash. An enduring memory is sitting on the shoulder of my dad watching colorful lanterns on the last day of the new year festival, the 15th day of the first lunar month, not to mention the variety of delicious food I could eat and the excitement of setting off fireworks.    

However, the Spring Festival nowadays is different from what is depicted in the book and etched in my memory. Despite being the most important celebration in China, the festive atmosphere of the Chinese Lunar New Year has been waning in recent years. Fireworks have been banned for environmental and security reasons. Thanks to the rise of e-commerce and the well-developed courier network, people in both urban and rural areas can buy what they want, whenever they want in an easy and convenient way. They have lost interest in purchasing new clothes, sumptuous food and many other enjoyments the festival offered. Now more and more choose to travel overseas to spend the holiday rather than reuniting with relatives. It's estimated that tourists will make more than 400 million trips during this year's holiday, according to a report by Ctrip.

The country's biggest festival is apparently losing its traditional flavor. Loss of traditions with economic development and higher standard of living is a reality facing almost every society in the process of modernization. Are Chinese Lunar New Year traditions dying? I was startled when this question struck me and I realized that I hadn't prepared anything for the new year. A couple of days ago discussing how to spend the holiday, I even suggested we take our kid to the beach in a Southeast Asian nation. My husband rejected the idea, insisting we take our boy back to the hometown for family reunion. He is right. 

Spring Festival should be celebrated with rituals. They are what make it different from other days. If people simply complain about the loss of the festival's "authentic feel" and do nothing to preserve traditions, I cannot imagine what the Spring Festival will look like when my son grows up. Will it just become an ordinary holiday period?  

The author is a reporter with the Global Times. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn
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