Tuesday, January 06, 2009

It's all chinese to me

Caught sight of this on the side of the road: two mannequins dressed up in ninja costumes (all black, long sleeves, a mask covering the lower half of the face and most of the head), with what looked like a plastic sword sticking out the back. Wearing red sashes that read, in both chinese characters and pinyin (this refers to the alphabetization of chinese characters), Happy Chinese New Year. I so want to stop by them one day and plunk a glittery tiara on one of their heads.

My friend is organizing a chinese new year dinner and has been asking what day to hold the dinner. She asked if it would be wrong to hold the dinner on the day of the chinese new year, since she thought it was a day to fast among the chinese community. Fast? Chinese people??? Unless they're monks cleansing themselves for physiological reasons, I can't recall ever hearing of any Chinese group that fasts, especially the new year. I pulled out my handbook on chinese traditions (ie my father) and sent her the list of traditional activities for celebrating the new year. And I don't see anything about fasting on it!

Day 1 welcomes the gods of the heavens and earth; some folks will abstain from eating meat to ensure long life. No fasting.

Day 2, pray to the ancestors as well as to all the gods. Be kind to dogs and feed them well as it is believed that the second day is the birthday of all dogs (strangely enough, a lot of older gen chinese folks are not too dog friendly, I wonder why...).

Days 3 and 4 are for sons-in-laws to pay respect to their parents-in-law.

On Day 5 people stay home to welcome the God of Wealth. No one visits families and friends on this day because it will bring both parties bad luck.

From the sixth to the tenth day, the Chinese visit their relatives and friends freely. They also visit the temples to pray for good fortune and health. Feasting at every stop, since no wants to be seen as too cheap to forget feeding the visitors.

The seventh day of the New Year is the day for farmers to display their produce. A juice from seven types of vegetables celebrates the bounty of the season; which is somewhat contradictory to normal Chinese weather patterns - it's the dead of winter, and farmers have to come up with their produce?? and juice 7 vegies?? It boggles the mind. The seventh day is also considered the birthday of human beings (all humans? even the ones born the day before? This one still befuddles me.). Uncut noodles are eaten to promote longevity and raw fish for success (the word for fish - yu - is a homonym to a word that refers to success).

On the eighth day the residents of Fujian province hold another family reunion dinner, and at midnight they pray to Tian Gong, the God of Heaven. No idea if the folks in Guangdong, Hubei, Shandong are just twiddling their fingers waiting for the Fujianese to finish up, or they could all still be visiting more family and friends.

The ninth day is to make offerings to the Jade Emperor.

Days 10 to 12 are intended for dinners with friends and relatives; rather than traipsing around visiting them and being fed, it's your turn to host!
By the 13th day and unable to stand anymore rich foods, cleanse your system with rice soup (zhou, congee) and mustard greens. This is as close to a fast as it gets. But you're still eating.

The 14th day is to prepare for the big night: Lantern Festival, held on the 15th night.

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