Editor’s Note: Laura Nutchey-Feng first came to China to study and become a translator, though eventually found herself working as a journalist and news reporter. She holds a German passport, her mother is from the UK, and she is married to a Chinese man. Through beijingkids she’ll be exploring multi-cultural marriages and the observations she has since she is so intertwined with Chinese culture.
Thinking of my husband, one word comes to mind: risk-averse. Imagine my surprise when I discovered a very different side to him as we discussed Chinese New Year (CNY)!
What’s your favorite thing about CNY?
I used to love CNY because we could set off firecrackers. They were a type of sanctioned rebellion. This was the only time we were allowed to do something potentially dangerous. In China we have to do a lot of things our parents tell us, but for Chinese New Year, they let us do what we want with the firecrackers.
Now I’ve grown up I tend to like Spring Festival because it means family reunion and also I can be quite chilled finally. Because usually I’m quite tense, that’s why I feel being chilled at Spring Festival is a good thing.
No more crackers?
No, let me tell you a story about crackers. My family used to buy me firecrackers every year, and they’d put them into a box. One time, we had a lot of firecrackers in the box. We took the first one and lit it up. But there was a stray spark that went right into the box. So we turned around and starting running. Behind us it was just like a Hollywood movie scene, just BOOM! *laughs* So afterwards, I decided no more crackers anymore.
Another time, I almost blinded myself. I saw a cracker on the ground, took it and put it on a stone. Then I found a piece of glass and I put it on the cracker and lit it up. I thought I had time to run away but I didn’t. It exploded and my ears couldn’t feel a thing. I looked at my winter coat. It was full of white dots; it was the marks left by the glass shards. I was so scared but also felt super lucky because it could have hit my eyes and I could have gone blind. I was so stupid. Don’t do that. At 12 o’clock, don’t go outside, just stay where you are, there’s just too many crackers. Don’t get your head blown off.
So, we’ve had this on-going topic about whether to travel for Spring Festival. Why do you prefer going back to Hohhot rather than traveling for a week?
Because Chinese New Year means you have to go back to where you come from. Hohhot, that’s where I come from. That’s called luoye guigen落叶归根 (returning to your roots). Traveling makes me feel unsafe somehow, because it’s in another place. Going back home is safe, and spending Spring Festival means you have to have this sense of safety.
What did CNY used to be like when you were young?
We used to spend New Year, just me and my mum (His parents are divorced). Because the last day of the old year you have to spend at home, and then on the first day of the New Year you go to see your grandparents. Of course I didn’t like that. You could see on the TV always that it’s a complete family, they love each other, they have Coca Cola. Whereas for us it was just me and my mum, of course it’s not a good feeling.
Have your feelings toward CNY changed over the years? Especially compared to when you lived in England?
It’s so different in the UK. I really missed home, especially that time of the year. I would normally call up friends and cook for them. We’d skip class.
One year, I saw an ad sponsored by Tencent, broadcast right before the TV Gala. It showed an overseas student talking to his family from a foreign country. He couldn’t go back. That ad really hit me because I thought there wasn’t anyone there who cared about me. I figured an overseas student wasn’t a focus of the festivities but the ad made me feel there is someone there who cares. I think that ad was voted one of the best ads ever; it definitely got people talking a lot on WeChat.
I think that the size of the Chinese New Year’s family reunion is shrinking in general. It used to be really big because the elder generation would kind of enforce it. The younger generation doesn’t tend to follow the traditional rules anymore. In theory, once the elder generation passes away, the eldest son or daughter would take the lead. But now few follow old traditions anymore and it will become more about your immediate family rather than big family gatherings.