Traditions come and go, but spirit prevails steadfast

Updated 2018-02-12 13:47:01

"We valued the festival so highly 30 years ago, when everything was in scarcity, because it was the only time we got to eat meat, put on new clothes and stay up all night playing games," Hu says. "Today we do those things anytime we want. It's human nature to chase what's hard to get and then throw it aside once we have it."

However, folklore professor Zheng Tuyou from Fudan University says there's no reason to lament changing customs.

"Folk traditions always change with the social changes," he says. "There is no standard to mark a truly traditional Chinese New Year because traditions long ago varied under different dynasties."

Form may change but essence does not, Zheng says.

He points to hongbao as an example. Money didn't really come into commonplace use until the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and today people transfer money around via mobile phones.

"But the inner spirit of it never changes, that is to wish children good health," he says. "Old things are gone or eliminated, replaced by new things. It's just the way of development. We don't need to be overly nostalgic about it or even try to revive old times. Let the past go."

The traditional family reunion dinner is another case in point. In olden days, wives prepared the New Year's Eve dinner. But in recent years, more families have chosen to eat the big meal in a restaurant. Bookings for that evening in major restaurants must be made well in advance.

But now, with the trend toward home-delivered meals — some prepared by experienced chefs — families are once again choosing to stay at home.

"Folk traditions have their own way of adjusting to the social environment," Zheng says.

Last Lunar New Year's Eve, about 650,000 Shanghai residents traveled overseas for the holiday, often forfeiting presence at the traditional family get-togethers.

"Why is it that young people don't care about Spring Festival but like Western festivals more?" asks professor Zhang Zujian from Shanghai University. "I find traditional Chinese festivals are mostly the same — we worship, we eat and we wish. What really matters is how we bridge the age gap and extend out hands and hearts to others."

Old traditions are indeed evolving. Traditional Spring Festival couplets nowadays are often written with funny catchphrases instead of classic poems, and ancient operas have added punk music and electronic elements to attract young people.

"But rest assured, Spring Festival won't disappear, no matter how much it changes," says He Chengwei, vice chairman of the Shanghai Federation of Literature and Art Circles. "It's a special time to bid farewell to the past year, past failures, past heartbreaks and welcome a fresh start, a new era and a bright future."

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