It’s that time of the year again. Lunar New Year. A time to forge ahead, a time for renewal, and to usher in good fortune. A time to celebrate the Spring Festival falling on the second new moon following the winter solstice. The time of year when retailers and non-Asians alike delightedly bid “Happy Chinese New Year!” to non-Chinese Asians like me. Let’s be clear, it’s only Chinese New Year to the Chinese. Despite the age-old stereotype, we’re still not all the same.
Over-generalization and erroneous assumptions about race and culture is maddening. The one-size-fits-all “Happy Chinese New Year” greeting for all Asians certainly falls within this category. Perhaps it sounds trivial to some, but for myself and others who value cultural uniqueness and personal identity it’s important to us.
I was at local watch retailer and perused their latest collection. Their winter edition proudly boasted an impressive display for an array of patrons from sporty to classic to trendy. An overly attentive saleswoman immediately positioned herself exactly two feet from me. Her relentless two-foot circumference remained constant during my entire visit. Two words comes to mind: commission-based. The limited edition winter collection was my first stop and one watch instantly caught my eye: the Year of the Monkey watch. It was ethnic, bold, and unique.
“Can I take a look at this watch?”
“Oh, you mean the Chinese New Year watch?”
My husband instantly glanced over at me and knew that she had just ignited a rarely-seen nuance of my personality. Uh-oh was written all over his face.
Being Asian and an educator, I was compelled to tell her.
“You mean Lunar New Year watch?”
“No, it’s Chinese New Year,” she said fixedly.
“It’s actually Lunar New Year. It’s not just the Chinese that celebrate this holiday. Other Asian countries celebrate it too including my homeland Việt Nam.”
The saleswoman looked at me as though she had just discovered that the earth is round.
She awkwardly turned to a younger sales clerk and asked her, “Did you know it’s called Lunar New Year?”
“No, I didn’t know that,” responded the younger salesgirl.
“By saying Chinese New Year, you’ve limited your customer base and are being culturally exclusively,” I explained.
Needless to say, I’m not the owner of the “Chinese New Year” watch.
“It’s like saying “Merry American Christmas” as a blanket statement to all.” Billions worldwide celebrate Lunar New Year.
Although this holiday bears different names, it’s celebrated in different countries: Việt Nam, Korea, Tibet, Mongolia, Thailand, Malaysia and The Philippines, they’re all dictated by and celebrated according to the Lunar calendar.
It’s like saying “Happy American Christmas” as a blanket statement to all. We know that billions around the globe from different countries and cultures celebrate Christmas. Calling this holiday Chinese New Year is not inclusive to other Asians. The same Asians who’ve also been celebrating this ancient custom for over 3,000 years including my ancestors. Yes, a time long, long ago.
Têt is the Việtnamese version of the Lunar New Year and has been our long and proud tradition celebrated by billions worldwide. This ancient tradition has been and is still the largest and most significant holiday in Việtnamese culture. We honor and pay homage to all of our loved ones who have passed so they’re not forgotten. We celebrate our centuries of rich heritage and culture.
“All of these things are part of my family’s traditions and a part of my identity of being Việtnamese.”
As someone born in Việt Nam who’ve spent most of my life in the U.S., my parents imparted their strong Vietnamese roots and customs to our family including celebrating Lunar New Year (Tết). We honor and pay homage to loved ones who have passed on this national day.
As a child and even today, seeing dainty kumquat trees at the Asian markets, unwrapping the banana leaves from bánh chưng (steamed glutinous rice cake), and receiving li xi (lucky money) in the festive red envelopes with elaborate gold designs are all part of my Têt experience and heritage. All of these things are part of my family’s traditions and a part of my identity of being Việtnamese.
Lunar New Year is a time to celebrate the New Year. It’s also time to recognize and celebrate the uniqueness of each distinct country and culture and of those who celebrate this time-treasured tradition.
Chúc mừng năm mới!