Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Chinese Lunar New Year (Spring Festival)

Today is the eve of traditional Lunar New Year observes in China and other regions culturally connected to that ancient civilization.

In the U.S., it is not without controversy regarding how to address that holiday.  Calling it Chinese New Year, then Koreans and Vietnamese might feel left out.  Calling it Lunar New Year, then other cultures observing their lunar new year in entirely different seasons might feel robbed too - for example, Thai lunar new year falls in April, and the Jewish lunar new year (Rosh Hashanah) is usually in September.

In mainland China, at least the time I lived there, new year is simple first day of the Gregorian calendar year and the traditional new year is usually called Spring Festival or amongst the seniors, Old Calendar New Year or Lunar New Year.  I prefer to call it Spring Festival.

It was in the U.S., that I was greeted first time during the Spring Festival time with 恭禧發財 (traditional Chinese) or 恭禧发财 (simplified Chinese), which pronounced as Gong Xi Fa Cai (Mandarin) or Gong Hey Fat Choy (Cantonese).

An internet search resulted in such explanation as what this phrase means: Gong Xi (恭禧) is congratulations or respectfully wishing one joy, Fa Cai (發財) is to become rich or to make money.  Thus, Gong Xi Fa Cai means wishing you to be prosperous in the coming year.

Well meaning for sure.  However, I had to exert strong self-control not to cringe when I was greeted thus.

For people who grew up in China, especially in families value scholarly achievement and societal contributions, such greeting is rather too mercenary and crass.

The assumption that all Chinese greet each other during lunar new year time with this phrase is false.  It has been mostly used by merchants whose life goal is making money.  People who came to the U.S. several generations ago were mostly in the lower social-economical tiers and many of them became small merchants in the U.S. in order to survive and prosper and this phrase states their collective desires perfectly.

I personally will choose not use this phrase but have learned to smile back when I heard such greeting by well-wishers.

Happy Spring Festival to all!

Spring Festival