I’ve spent my time growing up in the city, but when it comes to Chinese New Year holidays, it’s always back to my Dad’s small town called Kampar – an ex tin mining town in Perak, a northern state in peninsula Malaysia. Loud firecrackers throughout the entire night, extended family company, good food and grandmother’s secret recipe was the order of the day. The family kitchen will be bustling with cooking activity from my mother to my aunts and the sometimes extended relatives who drop by to peep on what’s cooking in the pot. We had fun as children playing with fire crackers, with sand blasts, and trying to blow up the dustbin. And… not forgetting the customary red packets (Ang Pows) which we gleefully received year after year.
As my grandmother gets older in age, I usually assist her in the customary prayers to buddhas, bodhisattvas, heavenly altar and ancestors in the morning of CNY eve. We’re Cantonese, so everything is on one big tray: fruits, wine, cakes, roast pork, whole steamed chicken. I remember meat was a luxury for my grandparents. They grew up not having much compared to the kids of today. That tray gets shifted from altar to altar in the order of seniority and finally lands at the ancestral table. That of course, is before it lands on the dining table. My grandmother was not a “Buddhist” per se. She practices Buddhism mixed with Taoism, at least that’s how she grew up learning. We had a little bit more good fortune to learn Dhamma along the way and to see clearly what Buddhist practices are, and what are not.
Fast-forward 30 years later, when Anicca takes its course… I now spend the Chinese New Year festivities in the city. One distinct Buddhist practice in my family for generations is that we observe a vegetarian diet on the first day of the lunar New Year. The customary vegetarian dish passed down from generation to generation is always in the wok. I must say that this is also the day of Maitreya Buddha in the Mahayana tradition. We spend time visiting relatives and friends as our elders “downloads” news and “uploads” gossips, the usual routine.
Today, Chinese New Year for me is a celebration of family ties and renewal of friendships. Only once a year we get together, albeit other family “events”, funerals, birthdays, weddings. Perhaps this happens to mostly Chinese families in Malaysia. It’s a time for gratitude, togetherness, unity, laughter and joy.
Have a great Dragon Lunar New Year from Kuala Lumpur.