Starting family Chinese New Year traditions

Starting family Chinese New Year traditions

The requests started coming about a month ago.

"Mama, can we put up some Chinese New Year decorations, please? Why don't we have any?" my son asked.

Then he began asking for red paper, spare red packets and any red bits and bobs that he could fashion into festive trimmings or gifts for his grandparents and friends.

Two weeks ago, he wanted me to buy a "ba bao pan", literally an "eight treasure plate" or a serving platter that the Chinese typically fill with various festive sweets and nibbles for their guests.

A week before Chinese New Year, my seven- year-old sprang another request on me: "Will I be wearing new clothes? Have you bought any for me?"

Oops, I had not. So we set off after school the next day for what would prove to be one of the most tiring shopping trips of my life.

Every item I picked was "ugly", "too pink" or "just not nice". Every piece he fancied was too casual, cartoony or, yes, just not nice.

Add to this the fact that shoppers aren't exactly spoilt for choice when it comes to fashion options for boys - checks, stripes and superheroes just about sum it up - and you could see why the afternoon was shaping up to be a disaster.

Then suddenly, his face lit up. He had spied a rack of traditional Chinese costumes, complete with mandarin collars and frog buttons. "Wow, so nice!" he kept exclaiming, fingering lovingly what looked to me to be cheap polyester.

"Seriously?" I was taken aback. "But they are so..." Tacky was what I was thinking. And literal. There were no quirky elements to lift the designs from pedestrian to anywhere near a la mode.

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