My introduction to Chinese/Asian New Year, was through my friends Dick and Germaine Swanson who owned a pan Asian restaurant called Germaine’s at the top of Georgetown. These were in the years before Congressmen were resigning because they (as Evan Bayh said) “don’t like Congress anymore.” We had spent that Sunday watching a quaint little football game (the Super Bowl) – eating our way through the afternoon, and into the evening, when someone reminded us that we were expected to go to Germaine’s for a New Years celebration. And if you were expected, there were no acceptable excuses. Despite the fact that I carried a Diplomatic passport, any New Year other than December 31st was a mystery.
Mark's on Chinese New Year (lunch)
We had eaten what amounted to about 2 and a half dinners, hours before we went to Germaine’s. I figured Chinese New Year, like any other New Year, was about having a few drinks and wishing all our friends well. The fact that we were going to eat yet another big dinner, admittedly, came a surprise. It never occurred to me that Chinese New Year would be a unique New Year experience. Like most New Year parties, this one started quite late – but not because you had to be anywhere at midnight. In fact, the only thing that was required was that you come with a big appetite. As I said, we we unprepared for another big sit down but thanks to the faithful bartender we discovered some good news: that it is amazing what a little tonic water, bitters and lime can accomplish to refresh and rejuvenate a little tummy.
And when the world’s largest platter of fried rice arrived, we ate until we couldn’t move, and then we ate some more – Germaine is quite the chef.
the Year of the Tiger
Over the years my fondness for this multi-named holiday has grown. Some of my favorite (once a year) activities, include going to China Town and searching for the perfect New Year Envelope – in which you put a fresh crinkley new dollar bill (or whatever amount you want), and then present it (using both hands) to the person upon which you are bestowing New Year wishes. Some of this years envelopes (the Year of the Tiger) say “Peace”, others say “good health”, many say “prosperity”. All of them express good wishes about something.
And so once a year we go to “Mark’s Duck House”, our favorite Chinese restaurant for both regular food (Peking Duck, noodles galore and Dim Sum on carts on weekends), and I give all the wonderful young women who push the carts, as well as the administrative staff who supervise, a gorgeous red envelope with wishes for much happiness. It is so much fun. They get very excited because even though I do it once a year, they are always surprised by my thoughtfulness and respect for their celebration. In returns, they bring us the freshest of food and more importantly, tell me how thin, young and fabulous I look. Is that not worth the $15 or $20 I put in all the envelopes? The answer is yes.
And in my dotage, I am still learning ‘stuff’. Here is what I discovered about New Year celebrations. They are always a happy time mixed with some melancholy memories. There is always an emphasis on good food and special dishes that are only prepared on this occasion. In all cultures there is an emphasis on celebrating with family and friends. It is a time of year when people not only talk about how they will change the future, they also reflect on events of the past. In addition, while some folks feel like the New Year is just another holiday that makes people who are alone feel bad, I think there is no bad news about the holiday. It marks the passing of a time which, good or bad, is over. The slate is clean so whatever you want to do, you can do it without the baggage of the old year.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? Not a chance. Everything that happens to us in one year should be a lesson learned and not forgot – but the people who have made a difference in your life should remain a part of who you want to be every new year. We’re just sayin’... Iris