By: Revanche

Happy Valen-(Lu)nar New Year!

February 14, 2010

 Tidbits of Tradition

My Korean brow tamer tells me of a tradition in Korea wherein Valentine’s Day is the day women buy chocolates for the men, and a man may reciprocate by paying for dinner on a Valentine’s Day date.  A month later, the tables turn and on March 14th, White Day, men are the gift-givers and must select a gifts to reciprocate to the woman (or not, if his heart ‘clines in another direction). Yet a month later, Black Day gathers up all the singles who didn’t give or receive on either Valentine’s Day or White Day for a mourn-your-singledom dinner with black noodles.

Yesterday was Lunar New Year Eve, and half conscious, I heard some family drop by early in the morning to dispense with the traditional home visits. My cousin and her young children brought back a flood of memories of my childhood.  Our family had a set tradition brought from the homeland that’s changed slightly over the years, but not too much.  Once upon a time, the Lunar New Year was the Winter Break in our nook of Vietnam.  Businesses went dark, families kept their quarrels safely behind their teeth, a set of new clothing was bought (or made) for every individual to wear once they’d literally swept the old year over the threshold.

The lunar celebration spanned at least a week, usually two.  Families made house calls.  Adults drank tea together, while the children were taught to wish their elders a formal Happy New Year, happiness, health and wealth.  Each successful well wisher was rewarded with a red envelope.

That practice came to the States with my family, and I absolutely hated it. Shaking with stage fright, despite only addressing close relatives I spent time with frequently, I would gladly have forfeited the red envelopes and the hoard of cash to avoid mumbling, stumbling, as I followed my glib sib’s silver tongue and brash declarative act, embarrassed and discomfited by the staring eyes.

Once everyone had paid and been paid, food and the gambling!  We had kiddy games, die with animals printed on all the sides, kind of like craps. The adults played blackjack, because Grandma loved it, and a complicated card game using tiny colored strips with printed Chinese, because Grandma loved it.

Grandma unabashedly whupped our butts every year in card games, thus thoroughly unseating any notion that gambling could be profitable.  And it wasn’t for the sake of teaching us a lesson, I’ll tell you that much, she just liked winning. 

Over the years, the practice of parading the children in front of a grinning group of adults has eased up. The nuclear family groups have sprouted entire new branches and bringing the old group together would be nigh-on impossible.  But then again, this generation wouldn’t really mind. Born and raised in a highly affirmative environment, they lack nothing, least of all confidence, and claiming the red envelope for showing off is a matter of due course.  Kids these days. 😉

Possibly my favorite (for now) part of that tradition is that, in my family, red envelopes are given until you’ve married. At that point, you’re considered a true adult and then become an envelope giver.  My friends alternately gripe that it’s a disincentive to marry and that they want to incorporate that into their families.  Evidently some families cut you off once you’re earning an adult’s income.

I just smile.  There are memories sacred to every family.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to call my cousin and wish her Happy New Year, and thank her for delivering red envelopes I didn’t earn.

Edit:  And chiming in for the Japanese tradition, see FB’s comment below, and hailing From Japan With Love:

“In Japan, Valentine’s Day is a bit different. The tradition here is that girls/women give chocolate to guys (girls get a present from those guys in March on “white day” -they get white gifts like white chocolate, marshmallow covered chocolate etc). Also, there is “giri choco” which basically means “obligation chocolate”. Women give chocolate to their bosses or some other important men in their lives-this is expected and has a long tradition in Japan.

But what is a new trend in Japan is “tomo choco” meaning “friendship chocolate” and according to a recent survey 74 percent of women plan to give a Valentine’s gift to a female friend but only 32 percent intended to buy something for a boyfriend. In another survey a chocolate maker surveyed 500 women and 92% said they had received tomo choco from a friend last year. And of these women, only 11.2 percent said they plan to give chocolates to a someone they love.”

6 Responses to “Happy Valen-(Lu)nar New Year!”

  1. eemusings says:

    The older I get, the more I appreciate family, tradition and all their oddities. Happy CNY!

  2. They do that in Japan too — White Day.. 🙂

    Happy CNY!

  3. L.A. Daze says:

    I love red envelopes! Only since I live so far away, my red envelopes come in the form of bank transfers. Kind of sucky to not be able to open those envelopes up, grab the cash, and count it. But hey, money is money 🙂

  4. I got a red envelope last year from a co-worker. It had one whole dollar in it. I’ve since switched ofices, but I still have that envelope with the dollar in it.

  5. ekingout says:

    One of my friends tells me it’s Korean tradition to give your first real paycheck to your parents. Is that true across the board? That’s a wonderful tradition.

  6. Revanche says:

    @eemusings: If nothing else, they’re amusing. Now. 😉 Happy CNY!

    @FB: Ah, you’re right! *see Note* Happy CNY!

    @L.A.Daze: I’ll send you the envelopes to go with your bank transfers. 😉

    @Investing Newbie: That’s fun, too, $1 is normal for coworkers.

    @ekingout: That’s a new one on me, but then again, I obviously fully believe in donating Paychecks to Parents. ;D

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