How I celebrate Lunar New Year

Lunar New year is celebrated in many different countries according to the Lunar calendar. Here are two people's very different experiences of their celebrations.

Leo David Prajogo
4th February 2022
Image from Unsplash @drukelly

Castor Chan

Chinese New Year has always been one of my favourite holidays because it’s a time to be out of school, eat good food and see family. The typical first two days of CNY back home would be seeing the paternal side of my family first, then the maternal side the day after. These are days filled with delicious home-cooked meals, the sound of mahjong tiles clacking together and well wishes being recited around the room. There are two particular memories that stand out during these two days; the first being making and eating nian gao and turnip cakes. (my personal favourite is a coconut milk nian gao which I will have for breakfast over the entire holiday if allowed to) Then the second is another type of cake - a sweet matcha roll cake I love that my grandmother gets me every year despite it literally being the opposite of the bright reds of my grandfather’s fai chun and the salt of homemade turnip cake.

There is no replicating the same feeling of being surrounded by that bustling cheer or bright colours and I miss it with every inch of me. Now, I’ve learnt to savour those memories and delight in the found family here around me. My flatmate took me out to Chinatown for a CNY meal, and the warmth I feel every time I think that she set time apart for me or recall the good wishes my British friends send me despite not celebrating it makes my love for them grow just a bit stronger. This is a time for family, but no one ever said they had to be blood, and this is how I celebrate Chinese New Year.

Leo David Prajogo

While people all over Asia celebrate Lunar new Year, as a Chinese Indonesian, I do nothing.

For my family, Lunar New Year is a bitter reminder of what we have lost. We cannot discuss Lunar New Year without remembering the fact that we were not even allowed to study Chinese or celebrate Chinese New Year until 2000.

In Indonesia, Chinese people have faced centuries of persecution. In May 1998, as part of the historic '98 riots, the city of Jakarta turned against Chinese Indonesians, burning our businesses and killing our people out of misplaced anti-Communist sentiment. Throughout history Chinese Indonesian families have been forced to change their family names; that’s why my surname is David Prajogo instead of Ho or Wu.

For my family, it was a choice between being Chinese or being Indonesian, and we chose to be Indonesian. In giving up our right to be Chinese, we gave up our language, our names, and our festivals. While like many Chinese Indonesian youth I try to reconnect with my Chinese heritage, how do you regain something that your own country has destroyed? What little I know about how Lunar New Year is celebrated by Chinese people I’ve learnt from my peers instead of my family.

I practice some traditions, such as cutting my hair shortly before and not cleaning on Lunar New Year, and I try to learn more about how Indonesians celebrate the festival to reconnect with my heritage but mostly, I do not celebrate Lunar New Year. It’s hardly for a lack of wanting; instead, it’s because being Chinese has been struck from my blood.

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