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Commercialism-free new year

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Happy New Year! Chinese New Year of the Monkey, to be exact.

It's a time when red is in and everything is crazy. It is also one holiday that both holds onto some aspects of its proper functions while not been drowned out by the wave of commercialism many western holidays have been cursed with, like Christmas. It also brings back great memories from my childhood in Hong Kong.

Since the lunar calendar varies greatly from the western calendar, New Year falls on different days each year, but every year the traditions it remains the same.

In the days leading up to the big day, it's time to clean house and prepare for the festivities. On the night before, the entire family--aunts, uncles, cousins--gather for a feast to end all feasts. It is a time where families come together to celebrate the coming of a new year, as families have done for countless generations.

And then the big day.

Fireworks go off like mad (in Hong Kong and Taiwan fireworks can be set off without trouble, but on the mainland it is against the law because it is deemed "wasteful") and dragons and lions dance through the streets to the beats of drums and explosions--all to drive away the bad luck. Red is the colour of the day, as guests come to visit bringing gifts and good tidings, it is truly a time to get together with friends.

And then the best part of all: the lucky red packets of money.

Many who come to visit family bring small amounts of cash with them. I remember taking them back to my room and peeking at the contents inside, even though my parents told me to be patient. Then again, asking a six-year-old to conceal a surprise is like trying to hide a bull elephant in a garage.

As I grew up, I began to pick up more about the festival. The significance of the 12 animals in the zodiac, the traditions and all sorts of other things. I also learned it signified the beginning of a New Year, even though the Western New Year had gone by. With each different animal that came to represent the New Year, the message was of universal peace, happiness and good cheer. Therein lies the marked difference between the pandemonium in Times Square after the ball drops.

When Chinese New Year rolls around, there is still tradition. Messages of goodwill and acts of generosity are heartfelt and sincere. Sure, there are the markets in Chinatown with merchants peddling their wares, but that is only part of the festival. Ads taken out in the newspapers are filled with goodwill messages, not peddling wares. While many local companies, like the Royal Bank or Air Canada, take out such ads to boost improve relations with the Asian community, their ads do not read "bank here" or "fly with us," but "may you have good health and safe travels."

In general, Chinese New Year stresses the family, togetherness, peace, sharing and happiness, all done without a hint of the commercialism that curses many a Western holiday. So Kung Hei Fat Choi to all, and may everyone have a prosperous year of the golden Monkey ahead of you.

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