This month we learned about how Vivian celebrated Chinese New Year, the biggest festival of the year, as a child: gathering with family, observing strict rituals and solving riddles during Lantern Festival. She also shared her very relevant insights into how things have changed…
Offering sweets to the Kitchen God
Vivian’s family traditions might sound familiar to those from her region, an archipelago on the East China Sea. For her family, New Year celebrations would kick off on the twenty-third day of the twelfth lunar month, when they worshipped the Kitchen God. “The Kitchen God is important as he goes to the heavenly emperor on that day to report on our good and bad doings of the year. We offered a variety of colourful sweets to the kitchen god, and I would down a few bags of them into my belly every year,” says Vivian.
Worshipping the heavenly gods
Then, from the twenty-third, her family would choose a good day in the almanac calendar to worship the heavenly gods. It often fell on the twenty-sixth or the twenty-eighth. The offerings began when the tide rose, as it was said that the gods would come with the tides. “My Mum prepared a whole table of food following a strict ritual. I can’t remember the table set-up exactly now, but there was always a very large piece of pork, a whole chicken, four kinds of vegetables, four kinds of nuts, Chinese wine, and so on.”
A table of food for the ancestors
On the eve of Chinese New Year, they would prepare another table of food for the ancestors before starting the New Year get-together dinner, which Vivian says was the time when the real fun began. “There would have already been so much food left over from the previous offerings for me to eat, and sometimes I would dry a cup of yellow wine with my Dad and get a little tipsy afterwards. We would watch the national communist TV’s annual New Year gala together, laugh and say the nicest words to each other.”
A set of new clothes on New Year’s Day
Long before New Year, Vivian’s Mum would have been busy preparing a new outfit for Vivian to wear especially for New Year’s Day. It would be completely new from head to toe, and waiting for New Year’s Day to wear it was practised as another strict ritual.
The main streets of Vivian’s small seaside town would be decorated with large lanterns, and completely cut off to vehicles, for Lantern Festival, on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. The lanterns had riddles written on small slips of paper sticking to them and whoever guessed the riddle would get to tear that slip off and claim a small prize from the designated prize centres.
From ‘abundance’ to ‘reduction’
For Vivian, the fondest memories of Chinese New Year are often associated with the abundance of food, sweets, and new clothes after a year of hard work. But how special is this idea of abundance these days, when it’s so much easier to have all of things in everyday life? Vivian says her family now practises a ritual of ‘reduction’ as opposed to ‘abundance’ during the New Year. “My Mum has turned all her offering menus to vegetarian; instead of throwing ourselves into gluttony, we prefer reasonable consumption.”
So, for 2017, Vivian says she is most looking forward to a more simple life, a common sentiment that many of us can certainly relate to. “As the Chinese phrase ‘辞旧迎新 (cí jiù yíng xīn)’ suggests, I would like to de-clutter the old and unnecessary, and carry on with purified energy and passion.”
Happy new year from Cypress Books!