By Matt Cutugno
Yingcheng, China

I’m in China for the Spring Festival. That’s the celebration of the Chinese New Year featuring fifteen days of family, friends and food. My dear Lily was born in Yingcheng, a rural city located an hour’s drive from Wuhan in Hubei Province, and thirteen hundred kilometers south of Beijing. 

While the New Year celebration in the U.S. is basically a day long, in China it’s culturally more significant. No matter what part of the country you live in, people head back to their hometown to celebrate with their families. If there is one overriding theme, it’s togetherness. 

Lily's Family

I was the only westerner to attend a reunion of Lily’s former classmates, now all sexagenarians. They had gone to the countryside in 1968 as part of the “reeducation” program during China’s Cultural Revolution. She had not seen some of them since she came to America, and their get-together was heartwarming. “Is that you?” Lily said to a man she hadn’t seen in fifty years. “Yes, it’s me!” came the laughing reply. There were handshakes, hugging, good wishes, and of course food. 

A Spring Festival Meal

In subsequent days, we attended one family gathering after another. Meals featured a tapas-like array of dishes, some exotic like intestines, tongue, turtle soup, and pig trotter while most were traditional fair like dumplings, chicken soup, tofu, lotus root, and fresh vegetables. Fish was omnipresent since the Mandarin word for fish, yú, is also the word for “abundance” and “good fortune.” The positive vibe extended into the streets of the city, both with lively displays of dancing and fireworks and also with greetings of “xīn nián kuài lè,” Happy New Year! On the eve of New Year’s Day, there is a television special that’s watched by hundreds of millions. It’s a stupendous and eye-catching production. Popular movie and television stars host the show and there’s singing and dancing galore to a live audience. If one is lucky enough to be financially well-off, it is customary to give others and especially children, hong bao, a red, decorated envelope with modest amounts of money inside. Another of the festival’s days is dedicated to visiting the final resting place of loved ones. Replicated paper money is brought to the grave sites, lit, and burned so that the dearly departed can use it in the afterlife. 

Line Dancing at Lóng Chi

All this emotional warmth amidst cold February weather made me reflect on my own country. Unfortunately, back home we seem to be lacking in togetherness. In my lifetime I have never seen such protracted tensions. Our very diversity seems to be pulling us apart into separate camps. We feature public shaming in restaurants, body shaming on the internet, unprecedented intolerance of each other, and just plain nastiness. Coming from New York, I’ve always hoped our various ethnic, racial, and political components were like vital pieces of a fine mosaic. Now we’re more like the miss-matched accessories of a candidate for the worst dressed list. 

Happy New Year of the Pig

Here’s a toast to the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Pig. May the coming months see us overcome the hysteria and acknowledge what is so apparent to me – our commonalities outweigh our differences. That’s my wish of togetherness. 

Matt Cutugno  

Matt Cutugno is an Amazon bestselling author of four novels and a frequent contributor to Stay Thirsty Magazine. His latest book is The Godless Land.

All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.