For those of us who celebrate the Lunar New Year, which starts today—if you're wondering why you're seeing kids everywhere on a Monday, it's because for the first time ever, the city's public schools are closed for the holiday—the past few days have been a massive game of "check off the to-do list."
That's because prepping for the new year is no joke: Besides getting a new haircut (to cut off the previous year's bad luck), buying new red outfits to wear (it's an auspicious color and, yes, wards off bad luck), and getting money to stuff in lai see packets (red lucky envelopes) to give to my kids, I've also been giving my apartment a massive scrubbing, the likes of which it has not seen since last year's Chinese new year. (Think spring cleaning but with more fanatical attention to detail. Or maybe that's just me.)
First, a little background: Today marks the start of the Year of the Monkey, the 9th of 12 years in what's known as the Lunar calendar. According to Shenzhan Liao, director of education at the China Institute, which is hosting a spate of new year-related events in the next few weeks, the Lunar calendar is based on the cycles of the moon, making it different from the typical western calendar. That explains why a little over a month after the big ball-drop in Midtown that signaled the arrival of 2016, many New Yorkers are wishing everyone yet another happy new year.
But back to the cleaning, which, for many, is a major part of the prep work that goes into welcoming the new year. That includes scrubbing all the corners of my apartment, getting the tub sparkling clean, donating all the old clothes that I've had sitting in bags—Marie Kondo would approve!—and getting the garbage out and cleared from your home before the new year begins. "It's an auspicious saying that at the end of the Lunar new year, you get rid of the old dust and be clean and ready for the new year," Liao explains. "It's a fresh start." (For those of us who've had a rough January already, it's another chance at a reset—at least that's the way I like to think of it. Do over!)
It also means, at least for me, cooking up a storm so I don't have to—knives are a no-no to handle, some say, since you don't want to get a cut, and perhaps symbolically bring on the pain, for the rest of the Monkey's reign—in the first few days of the year. And clearing debts (hello, online banking!). So yes, I've been busy.
I realize that a lot of this is custom and superstition, and that I could, in theory, have spent the past few days doing what I always do (read: barely keep up with life in this hectic city; that, and spend too much time watching viral videos with my kids). But for me, there's comfort in starting anew so soon after the new year. All those waylaid resolutions can be resuscitated or, better yet, tweaked with a hefty dose of realism. And also, I miss home. (I grew up partly in Hong Kong, where my brother still lives and where, yes, he has spent the last few days getting his own messy apartment in order.)
And really, all that pre-cleaning and cooking frees up time for the 15 days of celebrating the Lunar New Year is meant to be about, as Liao points out: "It’s a time for family and renewal. In general, it’s about families getting together for celebratory reasons, and for sharing good wishes."
I can get behind that. And this: dumplings!