Today officially marks Tết Nguyên Đán, which is Sino-Vietnamese for “Feast of the First Morning of the First Day” otherwise known as Lunar New Year. Many Southeast Asian countries, not limited to China, celebrate this holiday that commemorates the New Year as according to the lunar calendar.
Last week as I was preparing lì xì (traditional red envelopes stuffed with money in order to bring good fortune for the new year) to hand out to my coworkers, one of my peers asked me about the Lunar New Year. And it got me to a point in conversation where I started to dance around metaphysics, emphasizing that time is unreal and that our measurement of time is artificial. Accordingly, the way we measure time will be determined by those who have the power to tell us how we should.
Why is it that the Lunar calendar was swallowed up by the Gregorian calendar? A quick thing of research will reveal something that is unsurprising to me. The Gregorian calendar is named after the Catholic pope who introduced it in 1582. The calendar was reformed from the previous Julian calendar, which was reformed from the previous Roman calendar. The calendar that endures today has been built on empires, from the Roman Empire to the Catholic empire. Today, it continues to uphold the capitalist, neoliberal, American empire.
The Western calendar that we follow today is not natural. It was created in the late 1600’s in order to accommodate a major Catholic holiday. Thus, Easter is aligned with the pleasant season of Spring. The notion of common years and leap years were also adjusted according to Easter. Ultimately, the calendar that endures today was specifically built in order to benefit and accommodate Catholics. Christmas and Easter are both recognized and celebrated as national holidays, having been artfully implemented into a culture of standard for everyone who lives in the United States. We take these holidays; we take these free days off of work and school; we take these things and we do not even question them.
This early morning, while the rest of the city slept, my father opened his eyes to rise out of bed, into the bathroom, into his work clothes, into his truck, into his job at yet another manufacturing company that does not even guarantee permanent employment. He drags his feet out of financial and social necessity rather than standing for self-fulfillment. I could tell that he was disappointed last night. Unlike some years past, our family was unable to visit the temple at midnight to properly welcome the new year. This year, we had to pass in order for my father to get a decent amount of sleep for work. There is no free holiday for Tết outside of Vietnam.
Following Vietnamese belief, I hold the truth that the way we start our new year is telling of the rest of the entire year. This day, like the rest of this week and month, I am already occupied with work, studies, and extracurricular activities. It is truly rewarding and at times, draining. No matter what institutional forces are on my back, the reality is that I actively choose these things for myself. This morning, I was summoned out of bed by the subtle forces of a Western capitalism that drives our growing 40-hour workweek, the very robotic productivity that continues to feed a series of days that are further removed from the true spirit of living days. And this is how the rest of my year will follow.
by ELAINE LE