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Of New Year celebrations and General Tao’s Chicken

After that night of chaos on the road, my wife and children refuse to come and see any more fireworks

Gulf News

People do crazy things on New Year’s Eve and we are no different as we always gorge on General Tao’s Chicken before the midnight hour strikes.

It is a family tradition for some reason. The last dinner of the year is always Chinese; not Italian pizza or Indian butter chicken or Lebanese mixed grill, but sweet and sour soup that makes our brows sweat, and the highlight of the evening — the chicken with an army background.

Over the years, I have realised that it is not just us who have this craving for Chinese. People of various nationalities seem to have a tendency to converge at Chinese restaurants to herald the New Year and gasp with joy, and ooh and aah at the sizzling dishes ceremoniously being carried by grinning waiters to the tables.

If Hollywood is also to be believed, Americans love to order Chinese on New Year’s Eve, specially if they want a cozy evening with someone.

I am not sure what the Chinese eat on the Chinese New Year, but they must sure be puzzled over this ritual with their traditional dishes to ring in the Gregorian New Year.

I scanned the History website to try and find out this strange behaviour of people and the only thing I learned was that “civilisations around the world have been celebrating the start of each new year for at least four millennia (a millennium is about a 1000 years).”

It further noted that most New Year’s festivities begin on December 31 and continue into the early hours of January 1. The common traditions, it said, was attending parties, eating special foods, making resolutions for the New Year and watching fireworks displays.

There was nothing about General Tao’s Chicken.

The other thing we usually do as the year slowly winds down is to stress over sending out virtual New Year’s cards.

Most of the time we forget someone important, we then fret, and then email a card after a week has passed. “Don’t worry,” my wife usually says. “It is still New Year if the person gets the card within the first week.”

Since we know people of various nationalities, we also have to keep track of the various New Years, over the year. Then, to make it even more interesting for us, there are various New Years celebrated even within the large Indian communities.

Finding a Diwali card is easy on the internet. Everyone who lives in the UAE knows by now that the Festival of Lights heralds in the Hindu New Year. But then Ugadi is a New Year for the Telugu-speaking people of India. Then there’s Baishaki, the Punjabi New Year, and so on.

By the time the Gregorian New Year peters out, we are worn out, sending out New Year’s cards to people of various faiths.

If that is not enough to keep us busy, there is more inter-mingling of people today of various faiths and we have to remember that for some couples we have to send two different New Year’s cards, at different times of the year.

The first time we were all together in Dubai, we went out to the Jumeirah Beach and watched the New Year’s fireworks.

The Burj Al Arab made a great backdrop to the spectacular show and after wistfully gazing at the skies after the last colourful burst, we headed back home with the thousands of people.

After that night of chaos on the road, my wife and children refuse to come and see any more fireworks.

But why everyone sets off fireworks on New Year’s is a mystery to me. All I know is that it were the Chinese who invented fireworks — most probably it must have been General Tao.