Chinese New Year or more commonly known as the Lunar New Year is a time of togetherness, it is a time of throwing out the old and welcoming the new, Chinese New Year at its core is quite similar to the Gregorian New Year as they both share the same spirit of starting a new but with a whole lot more fireworks and whole lot less of drunken partying. It is a yearly affair in which many Chinese people (this author included) look forward to, as we spend time with family over a tremendous amount of food and equally tremendous amounts of things being coated in red.
This year as we usher in the year of the Fire Rooster, we go through the motions of yet again following strict traditions in order to usher in good fortune and prevent bad things from happening. Coming from a family that values time together the most, my parents would –to this very day, still insist that we wake up at odd hours of the early morning to travel a couple hundreds of kilometers just to avoid the massive traffic jam in order to spend that extra time with family.
Throughout the many years of celebrating or should I say surviving this auspicious yearly event, I begin to reflect and have realized that there are many things that can be learnt from the many traditions and taboos still practiced today.
Below are five things I’ve learnt from years of successfully surviving the grueling marathon of cleaning a year’s worth of dust in a day, the test of agility and stamina by being part of the crew of people cooking enough food to feed the whole terracotta army, the test of strength and patience in answering uncomfortable questions courtesy of the many extended family members that I cannot begin to name, and the seemingly innocent house visiting and/or guests hosting events that never seem to end.
1. WHEN IN TROUBLE : TAI CHI YOUR WAY OUT
Gambling, drinking, overeating and giving money away to big babies who do not deserve it has always been big no no in any Chinese household except for a select 15 days in that we like to call the New Year (Chinese). Annually on the Eve of Chinese New Year, Chinese families reunite in their households to usher in more luck and prosperity for the New Year, and this is when the lifting of the strict rules begins.
During this period of time, all rules that were stringently in place and behaviours that are usually frowned upon are allowed and sometimes even encouraged. To me this has been quite a curious phenomenon and from this I have observed that the ability to get away with something unfavourable can also replicated outside this 15 day period using the simple martial arts concept of Tai Chi.
Tai Chi is practiced worldwide for good health. It is the concept of pushing away the bad energy from ourselves and changing that energy into good energy and reverting it back to ourselves. This same concept I’ve found can be extrapolated and replicated to other situations outside of Chinese New Year.
When attempting to do something you know will not end very well for you, for example taking an extra cookie from the cookie jar, or maybe wanting to borrow an extra bit of money; it all boils down to pushing away the bad energy from whomever your targeting –by either distracting them or shifting their focus,
making that energy positive again –by providing them with a bit of good news to get them into a good mood,
and then going in for the kill
2. WHEN IN DOUBT: OBSERVE AND PLAY ALONG
Having a large extended family can make anyone feel dizzy after a while; this is especially the case during Chinese New Year when you have long distanced relatives who are supposed to be your grandmother’s second cousin’s daughter’s husband.
On top of having a long list of unidentified relatives, the list to the many traditions and taboos are equally as long if not longer. Both these situations leave many people in confusion and after a while you will realized that there will always be someone – a cousin, a sibling, a second cousin, who knows exactly what to do in those kind of situations. The best course of action is to then follow that person and play along with confidence almost as though you too are a connoisseur in all things Chinese New Year.
This concept can also be duplicated in other situations as well. Whenever you’ve encountered a roadblock and have absolutely no idea on how to get pass it, look out for people from your peers who might have the solution. I usually share my difficulties in passing with the people I meet; some people may have the answers I’ve been looking for and in the unlikely event that I find that
I'd at least get that person to suggest someone else to give me further clarification.
3. DO THINGS IN MODERATION
After many years of stuffing my face and breaking the weighing scale after the 15 days are up, I’ve realized that when approaching the goodness of Chinese New Year too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. I’ve realized that whenever I’ve gone past my limit I usually say to myself “I’ve already gone past my limit anyway, what one or two more of these is going to change”. Sooner or later this one or two more becomes ten or twenty more and by that time I’ll be regretting my earlier decision of allowing myself to compromise on the little things.
Little things being overlooked will eventually lead to even bigger and bigger things.
The best way to ensure that you do not break deviate too far from your limit and goals is to do things in moderation. Doing things in moderation takes discipline and continuous effort. You would have to set a limit for yourself and learn when to say no thanks once you’re approaching that limit.
What I’d usually like to do when I realise that I’m nearing my limit especially when it comes to bad habits would be to distract myself with other things long enough for the desire to pass. About 90% of the time the desire to continue on with the bad habit will naturally just disappear.
4. FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN GET OUT OF A NEGATIVE 'CRITICISM'
Leading up to the festive season a friend of mine posted a very interesting question. She wondered why during the festive season our relatives only asks us really uncomfortable questions. Questions like ‘Are you getting married soon?’, ‘Are you earning a high salary yet?’ and sometimes even the painful ‘You look like you’ve put on more weight this year’ but nobody ever asks you whether you are happy.
And that did get me thinking, why don’t they ever ask you whether you are happy? Is it because the society in which we exists in only functions to make us feel like we’ll never be good enough? Or is it connected to an underlining desire to see us prosper?
I choose to believe in the later, I choose to believe that my relatives me ask these uncomfortable questions because they associate wealth, appearance and having a stable family as things that will naturally make you a happier and better functioning part of society.
This choice to find a positive action you can take from a mean critic can get you far in life. Instead of being affected by the negativity it's best that you bounce back and try to find action steps to better improve yourself (though this needs to be done after thorough reflection and taking those criticisms you've received with a pinch of salt.)
5. JUST SMILE AND WAVE
Speaking of intent and dealing with relatives who seem to shoot questions at you faster than a machine gun, the best way of dissuading them of their pursuit is to simply smile and wave. Despite being uncomfortable just smile and wave, despite feeling like sarcastically retorting to their questions just keep smiling and waving, this method works wonders in helping you remain in a happy mood
Your relatives will tire of asking you questions eventually and when it is all said and done, you’d probably be more likely to get away with even more things next year when you see them again (case in point number 1 above).
In following the fashion of this article, I will now tell you how smiling and waving can applied to other aspects of life. Smiling and waving can distract you long enough to get over the feelings of negativity. If you have a bad habit in which you wish to break start replacing that bad habit with a good habit, and I understand good habits are difficult to cultivate. A trick I used here is to smile whilst attempting to cultivate this good habit and sooner or later I believed that this good habit was something I looked forward to doing.
I hope you’ve found this article useful, write to me and tell me more about what you think about surviving Chinese New Year and maybe we could even exchange ideas on how to survive it better next year.