There are some things you just have to get used to as a parent of Eurasian children.
One is having random passersby make comments like “ooh, the mixed ones are always so lovely-looking, aren’t they?”
And another is the Lunar New Year, coming hot on the heels of Christmas and the school holidays. Just when everyone else seems to be breathing a sigh of relief at the return to normality and precious respite from family-oriented brouhaha, you get stung with a fresh round of obligations and expenses.
My partner is Vietnamese-Australian. She came here as a four-year-old refugee. Her extended family over here is massive, ages ranging from three to ninety-three, and we’ll be seeing all of them this evening. There will be a beer and a cognac-fuelled feast and a long line of young people and children with their hands out, ready to receive their little red envelopes of “lucky money” from their elders, including me.
There will be a beer and a cognac-fuelled feast and a long line of young people and children with their hands out, ready to receive their little red envelopes of “lucky money” from their elders, including me.
I love being dad to half-Vietnamese children and a part of this noisy clan. And it’s not only because we get to put our kids into Vietnamese school for three and-a-half hours every Sunday, though that is a pretty sweet deal. (My partner loathed having to go during her own childhood, and insists they suffer in turn. I just keep my mouth shut and try not to listen to their wails of protest as she straps them into the car, eyes on the prize of an afternoon to myself.)
More than that, though, I get a kick out of all of these family get-togethers that pepper the calendar (anniversaries of ancestors’ deaths feature regularly), of which the Lunar New Year and Tet celebrations are paramount. They’re scratching an itch for tribal belonging and ritual that I never knew I had.
I used to love the Gregorian calendar’s New Year festivities back in the UK, where I lived into my mid-thirties, but the traditions around it were always a bit loose. There was getting drunk, of course, and then listening to Big Ben for the countdown, which culminated in kissing people. Depending on the crowd, there might be some linked arms and a tuneless rendition of “Auld Lang Syne”, most of the lyrics delivered as a non-committal slur.
The Lunar New Year, as celebrated in China, Vietnam and a host of other Asian countries, has a firmer shape to it. Certain traditions must be adhered to, due deference shown to popular superstition. All money matters must be tied up, unpleasant household duties executed on New Year’s Eve, for the next day must be chore-free. If not, you consign yourself to a year of drudgery and struggle. On the first day of the year, you’re not even meant to shower.
I love this stuff. I don’t actually stick to it, of course, (well, sometimes the showering bit, I’m English after all) but I like knowing there are people I’m related to that do.
This is the stuff of family bonding and shared identity, and I’m all for it, even if the parade of self-interested deference can seem to go on forever.
I’m a sucker for all of those formalities, too. The little speeches the youngsters have to make before their seated elders, wishing them prosperity, good health, a long life undisturbed by major dental calamity, whatever comes to mind, in order to hold up their end of the “lucky money” deal. This is the stuff of family bonding and shared identity, and I’m all for it, even if the parade of self-interested deference can seem to go on forever.
I’m looking forward to tonight’s New Year gathering. The food and the mood are guaranteed to be good.
By the time you’re reading this, I’ll have dished out my reluctantly-stuffed red envelopes and listened magnanimously to the speeches of their recipients. I’ll have made a speech of my own, too, in barely recognisable Vietnamese, to my grandparents-in-law, as I receive my own red envelope from them.
And today, on the first day of the new year, once my tired wee mixed-race children have been packed off to school and kinder, I’m going to be putting my feet up.
It’s traditional, you know.
Image from Simon D/Flickr.