Canberra, AUSTRALIA – I haven’t been in China for Lunar New Year since 2010.
I usually go back to visit family during the Australian summer holidays at the end of every year, but the gradual increase in the studying required before a new school year begins – and earlier starts to the school year itself – mean we usually spend Christmas and New Year’s (元旦, in pinyin: yuán dàn) in China and are back in Australia by mid-January.
And regrettably, when I’m not in China for the Lunar New Year season, my family rarely makes extra efforts to decorate or cook. There’s no steamed fish, no pressure-cooked pork chops, and no assorted frozen dumplings (triple-verified by my grandmother) gathered from the depths of my grandparents’ chest freezer.
But since community is a massive element of Lunar New Year in China, we don’t mind having plainer festivities when most of our family are overseas.
Our celebrations for the past few Lunar New Years have been predominantly digital — new GIFs infused with red envelopes, photo filters featuring 瓜皮帽 (guā pí mào, which literally means ‘melon rind cap’) and various red and gold outfits.
We get photos from my grandparents’ much more sumptuous meals, too.
Although they are now sometimes too tired to cook, the quality, accessibility, and enviable value-for-money-ness of delivered food in their city has improved so drastically that they can enjoy an abundant – and healthy! – feast with ease.
Sadly, the same cannot be said of most of Canberra. One case in point was paying $19.50 for a plate of unchewable chives. I’m still embarrassed about ordering it in the first place.
But we did end up having an informal New Year’s Eve dinner at a restaurant in the city center yesterday, ordering a large and diverse spread.
We got dumplings – the staple Lunar New Year’s Eve food – as well as soup dumplings, garlic bok choy, marinated cucumber, stir-fried combination rice noodles, and, of course, soy milk, which is an everyday staple.
Of course, even a comparatively simple, somewhat erratic celebration such as this can easily include all of the most important elements of celebrating 春节 (chūn jié).
I’m thinking now of a highly-anticipated annual performance. The televised New Year’s Gala, or 春晚 (chūn wăn), is a four-hour-odd TV special featuring comedy skits, standup, and music. In recent years, it’s been available for live streaming on YouTube.
For many, my family included, the gala is usually the ultimate event tying all the visits, well-wishes, and food together.
In the few years before the gala was available on YouTube, we relied on blurry, over-bright videos recorded by family to watch, so being able to watch along in real time adds a lovely sense of cheer and togetherness – and archives of previous galas also offer a warm dose of nostalgia.
Not being in the same place as my family, though a key factor, is not the only reason I haven’t focused on Lunar New Year this time around.
After studying for the past few weeks, I’ve almost completely zoned out from the list of Lunar New Year-related events in Canberra, including a five-day-long Lunar New Year festival held in the quasi-Chinatown restaurant district less than a kilometer from where I live.
I’ve never heard of the festival in almost a decade of living here — and I haven’t found any news about previous iterations, so 2022 might have been the first one.
Aside from the festival, a local troupe that performs the lion dance has been touring around various venues in Canberra.
And on February 12th, a few days before the actual Lantern Festival 元宵节 (yuán xiāo jié) on February 15th, when the first full moon of the year is celebrated by eating the sticky sweet yuán xiāo (glutinous rice balls with fillings), the Canberra Beijing Garden will hold an early Lantern Festival celebration.
I’m making plans to pop by then, and maybe stop by the Chinese store on the way back for Chinese Lunar New Year snacks, like candied winter melon or lotus seeds. Mmmm.
While I’m there, I’ll also get some frozen yuán xiāo. There are many traditional and modern flavors, and my favorite is rose.
Happy Lunar New Year everyone!
Enling Liao is a Junior Reporter with Youth Journalism International.