Chinese New Year

Like many people in ‘western’ societies, I celebrate New Year.

There are probably few things more insidious than cultural misappropriation; cherry-picking elements of other cultures and incorporating them into one’s own. Some sociologists believe that we live in a ‘pick and mix society’ where we can choose for ourselves which aspects of each culture to combine in order to form our own, individual, norms and values.

It seems, somehow, to be degrading to the richness and variety of traditional cultures: rituals without belief; celebrations without meaning; practices without comprehension. One popular example is the practice of mindfulness – one facet of Buddhist teachings which has been separated from the whole and pressed into service as a self-help tool.

The other example is a personal one.

I can’t help feeling that I’m disrespecting a culture, ignoring a meaning that doesn’t suit my purpose

Like many people in ‘western’ societies, I celebrate New Year. Most recently, I hosted an intimate evening with family: drank some wine; played board games and card games; counted down; sang Auld Lang Syne; cracked open the memory jar; and went for a midnight walk to the beach.

I believe that the reason we celebrate each new year is because it represents hope: that we can change bad habits and make new ones; that the mistakes of the past will inform a better future; that change and growth will happen to us in the same way that it does in the natural world when the earth shakes off winter’s chill and prepares to blossom into light and colour and warmth.

I realised that we may need a way to separate the two events: celebrating a new beginning, and mourning an ending

But what about the people who don’t share in that hope? Those who are lost, forgotten, lonely, depressed, afraid, and hurting don’t always see that potential for a brighter tomorrow. I know this because a young man, a close friend of chaos creator number three, died by suicide on New Year’s day. Needless to say, we are still reeling from this shock.

In response, I realised that we may need a way to separate the two events: celebrating a new beginning, and mourning an ending. My answer? We need a new, new year. With little thought for the wider implications, I suggested that perhaps we could celebrate new year during Chinese New Year. At the time, I had no idea that this was a celebration that lasted for two weeks. It didn’t even occur to me that it would be all that different from our own, western event.

In the end, I simply decided to appropriate the date – February 16 – and recreate a basic, English New Year celebration.

I can’t help feeling that I’m disrespecting a culture, ignoring a meaning that doesn’t suit my purpose. It shames me and yet, I’m still going to do it. For my son. For his heartache. Because I want him to be able to remember the hopelessness that took his friend without allowing that hopelessness to become his.

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