Children’s Day in China is celebrated every year, on June 1, with joy and parental generosity. It is the official day for hundreds of millions of doting parents to take their only children to amusement parks and zoos, stuff them full of ice cream, candy, and McDonald’s, and buy them whatever they want. It is the day for parents to lavish their children with the affection they are not allowed to exude (for fear of spoiling them) on every other day of the year. On this day, filial piety rewards its little followers, extending its loving hand not in a disciplinary slap but in a nurturing caress and an open palm filled with sweets.
For the children, it is the one day of the year when they know, with reasonable certainty, that they will not be beaten or yelled at, a day of respite from the slipper, ruler, belt, and backhand, a day away from the piano, violin, or desk to which they are accustomed to being chained. It is the one day of the year they are consulted about what they want to do and are allowed, if not to make mistakes, then at least to enjoy themselves, knowing that they will not be punished for a poem unmemorized or a note misplayed. On this day, they are cherished by their parents as individuals. It is the closest thing to heaven a Chinese child can hope for.
For years after I moved to the US, I wondered why Americans didn’t celebrate Children’s Day. Considering America’s reverence for the nuclear family, this omission seemed an act of purposeful negligence. Was it because Americans were allowed to have more than one child per couple, and spoiling all of them on the same day was too much of a hassle? Or was this the passive aggressive American way of telling children that they were expected to leave the proverbial nest and fend for themselves as soon as possible? Did Americans, as a whole, simply care less about their children?
I posed these questions to my friend JJF during my last year of college. He was visiting for a few days, and to celebrate his presence, I cooked him fried rice (the only thing I knew how to make at that point in my life). While I cooked, I entertained him with some anecdotes about China, such as the time I got spanked in public by my dad when I wanted ice cream and he didn’t think I should have any. We were discussing the practice of corporal punishment in public schools when the topic of Children’s Day came up.
“So in America, we have all these arbitrary holidays, like Columbus Day and Memorial Day and Washington’s fucking Birthday,” I explained. “And then we have slightly less random ones like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day to celebrate the nuclear family and shit. So if we’re celebrating laborers and presidents and moms and dads, why don’t we celebrate kids? Like, kids in China get their own holiday.”
“Wait, China has a Children’s Day?” JJF looked incredulous. “That’s awesome.”
“Yeah, and the US doesn’t. Is it because Americans don’t like their kids or something?”
JJF thought for a minute. “Well, what happens on Children’s Day?”
“All the kids and some of the parents have the day off, so the parents take the kids to parks and buy them candy and ice cream and shit.”
“I guess they also take them to the movies, shopping, row boating, swimming, roller-blading…you know, stuff American kids do.”
“So they do things that American parents do for their kids anyway. On any other day.”
“Well, and they’re super nice to their kids in general. Like, they don’t hit them or anything. Or even yell at them. Just for that day.”
“I mean, yeah. That’s a pretty good deal, no?”
“Well, it’s obvious why Americans don’t celebrate Children’s Day,” said JJF. “In the US, every day is Children’s Day.”
Once he spelled it out for me, it was obvious: Americans spend so much time loving their children year-round that they don’t need a special holiday designated for doing so. Just as I wouldn’t have needed to feel that ruler on my backside if I had practiced piano five hours a day on my own, as my mother would have said.
On that note, I hope that all the kids in China are enjoying their day of mandatory parental love, because that’s all they’re going to get. Until next year.
Chinese girl at the Beijing Zoo on Children’s Day
Chinese kids with their parents at a park in Beijing on Children’s Day
Some blogs about Children’s Day in China: