Guilt: The Unwanted Guest at Every Family Holiday Celebration

Photo by Phing Chov (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In this humorous take on passing down family holiday traditions, NPR Code Switch’s Kat Chow reflects on how duty and guilt mute her enthusiasm for Chinese Lunar New Year until she accepts that guilt is simply a natural part of the ritual.

The Lunar New Year of my youth:

Dad pushes our kitchen table to the center of the room. He’s clearing space for the family to stand and pray. He and mom coat the table with platters of fish (symbolizing surplus, prosperity), black moss noodles (more prosperity), roast duck, poached chicken with ginger and scallion oil. Before we eat, my parents set out framed photos of our dead relatives (symbolizing filial duty, I guess) next to the food offerings.

We light incense. Clasping the puffing sticks in our palms, we bow three times (symbolizing … I don’t know) and dispose of them outside on the back deck. The smoke from the incense licks our eyeballs and clings to our winter jackets, which we wear throughout the night (symbolizing we’re cold).

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