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Tradition Smadition

Today is the last day of the Chinese Calandar. Tommorrow will be the start of a new Chinese Year. And of course with all the pineapple tarts, loveletter rolls, kuehs and biscuits comes all the ancient traditions that were passed down from our great grandfathers. Today we shall explore my personal sentiments towards these Chinese New Year traditions.

1. Spring Cleaning - Out with the old and in with the new
A Chinese proverb states that all creations are reborn on New Year’s day, hence our great grandfathers took the saying a little too literally [maybe because they didn't have much education back then] and came up with the Chinese New Year Spring Cleaning. Much alike the western Spring Cleaning after winter, everyone gives their home a big overhaul, throwing away all semi-broken, unsightly or dusty little artifacts of their lives that they can find, at the same time bringing in all the fancy new goodies that they purchased just 1 week ago solely for the purpose of decorating their houses for CNY.

But there are a few 'rules' that one must follow:
  • All things associated with the old year should be gotten rid of

  • Cleaning must be done before CNY

  • No cleaning is to be done on CNY day itself [sweeping away good fortune]

  • All debts should be paid off before CNY

And now here comes my self-centered opinion. I have always been a believer of practicality over tradition or beliefs. So I can say that it's nice to have an annual spring cleaning during CNY [if not for the fixed date, we would never get around to start our spring cleaning], but I disagree with throwing away items associated with the old year if they are still in good working condition. Common cents really [no typo there, it was on purpose].

And about cleaning on CNY, who cares what day you get to cleaning your house? Are you really going to hide away your mops and brooms and leave the floor/room wet and with a pile of collected dust you were sweeping up at 11.59PM on CNY eve just to blend in with tradition if you only got about to cleaning around 11.30PM and leave the pile of dust there throughout the day?

And how about debts being paid off before CNY? Well, to me this ain't nothing traditional. Debts should be paid off ASAP, not before and due date. This must be one of those grandmother stories that they tell their children so as to get them to pay off any remaining debts that they might have. Nothing traditional here, but more of a morality issue.

2. New Clothes for CNY
Somewhat linked to the previous point, people are always told by traditional parents to make sure they have brand new clothes to wear on CNY, especially the first 3 days. Preferred colours are 'prosperous' colours such as bright red, gold and orange. Solemn colours such as blue, grey and especially black are unacceptable by the very old and traditional.

Although this is unlikely to be a scam created by some oppertunistic retail company [or maybe it was some 2000 years ago], it still brings in the shopping crowds like only a few festive ocassions can, e.g. Christmas. Buying new clothes is fine and everything, but buying them just because of CNY is way off the practicality list. And the colours? Being a person that loves bright colours, this definitely does not affect me much, only that if I wear some black on the first 3 days especially, many mouths will be squawking. How does the colour of one's clothes logically affect the luck and prosperity of a person's life for exactly 1 year until the next CNY, let alone the people around him?

I personally approve of Giodano's bravery in trying to change tradition by promoting black-based clothing for their CNY season. Although none of the clothes appeal to me, I still respect their challenge to tradition. Tradition can be changed. Some 1000 years ago, people traditionally believed that the world was flat, until somebody proved them wrong.

3. Children staying awake during CNY eve will give their parents longevity
Legend has it that in the past, a mythical monster [Siu, same pronouciation as 'sleep'] will come on CNY eve to feast on humans. And that by having children stay awake on CNY eve [on their own free will], they can prevent the monster from eating or draining life from their parents [detering sleep], hence giving their parents a long and fruitful life.

Well, ain't this far fetched. Let me bring you back to the real world. [From] MYTH : a traditional or legendary story, usually concerning some being or hero or event, with or without a determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation. Do I need to say more? Well, I want to even if you say no. Even if this myth is semi-true, shouldn't it work the other way around? How can a child be more able to protect their parents from a monster than a parent is at protecting his/her child? And if the legend IS true, if the child loses the battle and is killed, won't the number of wasted years in the child's potential lifespan be much more than that of the surviving parents?

4. Firecrackers - Scaring of the Nian
Another monster involved here. Seems that the Chinese do believe in a lot of monsters. This time it comes in the form of Nian [same pronouciation as 'Year'], a mythical creature that would come and terrorise humans around the time of the New Year. Indeed, so fierce was Nian that it threatened to destroy mankind. The emperor, following the advice of a wiseman, challenged Nian to defeat all the other monsters, which would be a better match for his stregth rather than preying on the useless humans... And he did, and soon was back to terrorising humans. But one day, some children playing with firecrackers noticed that the Nian was afraid of the loud noise made by the explosions. Hence, the lighting of firecrackers during new year was born.

In present times, firecrackers are a means of celebrating the new year. More of a party poper than a religious tradition. But Singapore, being the safety concious country that it is, has banned the use of firecrackers since... well, a long time ago. So does that mean that we are terrorised by this fearsome beast? I doubt so. Look at Singapore now, we are more afraid of getting caught by the Traffic Police for drink driving on CNY than some mythical dragon creature. And is our fortune badly affected by it? Nah. The government says the economic growth can sustain an increase in GST. What do you think? This is 1 living example that traditions are not all total true.

Anyhow written on Feb 16, 2007 at 10:30 AM

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