Yesterday morning, as I was bent over heaving a box out the back door, bright colors caught my peripheral. I looked back and up at the wall near the wood frame inside the house. Four bright Portuguese clay fish, hung in a tight little school, reminded me that my children are Korean and that the Lunar New Year is approaching – even though I’m still chasing the last of the Christmas decorations throughout the main floor. When we traveled to South Korea to bring Will home in 2004, we learned about the symbolism of animals in Korean culture. One story that stuck with me was about fish: Since fish never close their eyes, pieces of art depicting fish are often found displayed near exterior doors to keep watch and protect the people inside. So in the house of Malcolms, we have four fish facing the back door that were made by an artist in Portugal, and they are protecting two Koreans, an Englishman, and an Iowan.
This year, the Lunar New Year is January 28th. The celebration is based on the lunar calendar, so the date changes every year. For the past couple years, we have barely acknowledged this holiday as we’ve fallen into the patter of Malcolm weekend life. Whether robotics class, band lessons, skiing, or gymnastics – or maybe just hibernating on a cold Saturday afternoon, we haven’t ventured out as a family to celebrate the Lunar New Year. Admittedly, it may have even passed unnoticed for a year or two.
When Will and Liam were in grade school, every year I went into their classrooms around the Lunar New Year to do activities with their classmates. I’ve taken our traditional hanboks, worn on special occasions, into school for the teachers and students to try on. I’ve made traditional tteokguk, rice cake soup, with thirteen 1st-graders. The rice cake sticks to your ribs, and Koreans eat it on New Year’s Day so they will have good luck and a fresh start in the New Year. I’ve recreated Korean kites, which are often flown by kids on New Year’s Day. I showed the kites to Will's 4th grade class, then gave them a tub of materials to make one themselves, only there were no directions. That was the last class project I did with Will.
Looking back, I see these activities were two-pronged. First, I wanted my kids to know the history of and to celebrate the Lunar New Year. Second, and most importantly in this setting, I wanted their classmates to learn about the Korean culture. Their classmates were intrigued. When Will was in second grade, I went into his class every day for a week so the kids could work through five stations of Korean culture crafts. I have a tub in the basement with all the original patterns and samples, but I’m crafted out, and the boys are in middle school now where they use less Elmer’s glue.
This year, with 11- and 13-year-olds, we are going to carve out time to celebrate our sons’ culture – in the greater scope of how other Asians celebrate. While museums in the area celebrate the Lunar New Year with indoor performances and crafts, we will be heading to the Chinese New Year parade on February 12th in Boston’s Chinatown. The event description says there will be lion dances, drumming, and fireworks, plus a culture village – scant words to describe what will surely be an authentic celebration that appeals to every sense.
In Chinatown, our sons will see reflections from faces very different from their everyday lives. And, our little multi-cultural microcosm will celebrate what one-fifth of the world’s population celebrates every Lunar New Year: Family.