One of the beauties of my home country Malaysia being multiracial is the multitude of celebrations that grace our country throughout the year, one of which is Chinese New Year. As February sneaks around the corner, red lanterns and paper decorations begin to embellish the streets and storefronts, office buildings and homes. Festive tunes reverberate through malls and morning markets, welcoming the celebration long before it even arrives.
This year marks my first time celebrating Chinese New Year away from home, and there is no denying the feeling of being left out as festivities take place back home without me. Chinese New Year, at least for my family, is four consecutive days of reunions, feasts, and catch-ups.
I can almost picture the same annual routine, the one that is impossible to be tired of: The growing smile on my grandparents’ faces as we drive uphill to their house, a heart-warming constant I can always count on. My immediate family gathered around the dining table on Chinese New Year Eve for the traditional steamboat. Pleasantries are exchanged as dishes are passed around the table, everyone chiming in with a life update, everyone adding their favourite ingredient into the boiling broth.
The night progresses, and firecrackers are unfailingly set off at the stroke of midnight. The ebony sky is momentarily lit up by sparks of emerald and ruby, sapphire and bronze. Cheers erupt synchronously as families step outside their gates to enjoy the fleeting view. Neighbours perform the perfunctory head nods as if to say, “How fast time passes, we are welcoming yet another New Year in this small town!”. Once the show is over, we clamber into our respective beds. Who knows if the jitters are from the absurdly deafening fireworks or the excitement for tomorrow?
The next three days are lather, rinse, repeat. Curtains are drawn open following the signals of local roosters, and the day begins with the frantic beeline for the bathroom, as well as squeezing in front of mirrors, getting ready and donning our best dresses. Right before noon, there is the long drive up to my relatives’ cul-de-sacs, a stack of red packets in my parents’ hands waiting to be distributed, my brother and my empty hands waiting to receive some. The sun would always hang lowly in the sky, wanting to be closer to the merriment, unknowingly scorching us in the process. An extravagant feast is already lined up upon our arrival. Naturally, more feasting and conversing commences.
I do a quick tour of the house, allowing four-syllable greetings to roll off my tongue left and right. I reunite with cousins I haven’t seen since last year and chat up the elderlies about how they’ve been. It’s always fascinating to see how much people have accomplished over the span of a year, to spot what has changed and what has stayed the same.
As the sun clocks out for the day, the crowd dissipates. Cars begin driving away from the house as goodbyes are bid. We leave the way we came, and my brother and I compare the number of red packets we’ve received on the car ride home. The night is then endlessly dominated by some entertainment show, complete with beer for the adults, juice boxes for the kids, and tin cans of scrumptious snacks for everybody. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Being away from home during a time of reunion, togetherness, and family cranks up my homesickness dial, but I’m trying to make the best out of my situation. I remind myself what I’m working toward and that there will be plenty more Chinese New Year celebrations waiting for me back home. I know that one day, I will return to the familiar streets of that little town, and the lanterns will still hang against the azure backdrop, whispering welcome home.
That is the magic of Chinese New Year—it’s a confirmation that family and home will always be there for you so long as you remember to return. I suppose you can say, “You can take the girl away from home, but you can’t take home away from the girl.”
If you’re looking to locate a modicum of that Chinese New Year spirit in Manchester this year, simply begin with the unveiling of a commissioned tiger sculpture that will look over the city in St Ann’s Square from February 1st to 6th.
Head on over to GRUB on the 3rd of February to get a taste of street food and drinks from Little Yellow Rice Co. Celebrations will be held in conjunction with a Makers Market where independent makers show off and put their creations up for sale. If you’re a fan of Kung Fu Hustle, don’t miss out on the screening at Chapel Town Picturehouse as well!
The bulk of the festivities will take place on the 6th of February. Accompanied by music, a 175-foot Dragon will roam Albert Square before making its way to the final destination of celebrations—our beloved Chinatown. On this day, the streets of Chinatown will become temporary stages for lion dance, martial arts, Chinese dance performances, and more to take place. Food stalls will also line the streets alongside family-friendly activity stations to get you in a merry mood. A stunning fireworks display is scheduled for 6pm in the evening, which will draw a warm-hearted and colourful conclusion to this year’s Chinese New Year.
To everyone celebrating away from home in Manchester this year, Happy Chinese New Year! May your Year of the Tiger be an auspicious and prosperous one.