In his 2020 standup comedy special, “Hope You Get Rich”, Asian American comedian Ronny Chieng explains that the go-to phrase during Chinese New Year (the biggest event in the Chinese calendar) isn't “happy new year” – it's “hope you get rich”.
While we may joke about how Chinese New Year seems to focus on wealth and prosperity, the heart of the matter is that we simply wish the best in life for our loved ones and our families.
A time of feasting, and drinking, Chinese New Year is a chance for family to come together once a year, for you to meet relatives you don't often see. Past the exchanging of well wishes and hongbaos, there is an electric energy of family reconnecting.
In my family of extroverts, every Chinese New Year is an uproarious party. Most of the day is spent with a beer in hand, and delicious goodies always within reach. With family visiting, the host or hostess always prepares the very best – “These are the BEST pineapple tarts in Singapore, you have to try and tell me what you think”, or “This is the bak kwa with the very long queue, I made your aunt go and queue for me to get this”. Such wonderful acts of giving are not only part of a tradition, but are also about wanting to share the best with those who matter most.
Conversations flow as we banter back and forth, and we catch up on how everyone has been in the last year with much laughter and joy. As night falls, the drinks flow ever freer, and we begin to play.
We particularly like poker, and in my family it is a noisy, raucous game… and we bet tiny odds. Starting at 10 cents, our ridiculously small bets show it's never about the money… it's about winning. It's about family pride and honour. Occasionally a cousin would feel confident and place a $1 bet. “WHOA! Get this guy a cocktail!” the dealer would shout. Stakes are high.
This year, we know Chinese New Year is going to be very different. Many are separated from family due to the restrictions in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We know it will be a quiet celebration this year, with rules even prohibiting the shouting of auspicious phrases during lohei (the traditional act of tossing a salad for prosperity). But that shouldn't mean dampened spirits – only different spirits. Within your tighter groups, make meaningful connections and share happiness over cocktails. This very different Chinese New Year, try something new.
Wishing you joy, good health and abundance in the Year of the Ox. And we hope you get rich.