Reflections on some Chinese New Year’s traditions

VIEWED from any angle, not a single centimeter of my whole being looks or resembles the Chinese yet I was all ears when businesswoman Edna Co, a feng shui expert, told us some traditions practiced by the Chinese in celebrating new year during one of the press conferences last week.

Let me share them with you. These includes some practical tips to welcome the new year on the evening of January 21.

* A week before the new year, everyone is advised to engage in spring cleaning, or “cleaning to the max”, meaning to clean all nooks and crannies in one’s house, including cobwebs in the mind and soul.

(Nah… I’m an eternal clutter, maybe by the time I finish cleaning everything, another year will have passed and I would have created more clutter. As for cobwebs in the soul, I think the layer is too thick it will require another year to clear them all.)

* On new year’s eve, all brooms, mops and knives must be wrapped in cloth, tied with a red ribbon and must be hidden. No one is supposed to use them on new year’s day to avoid conflicts and exchange of hurting words, and to avoid cutting the “luck” of the New Year.

* Buy red things with Chinese characters- they bring good things, Chewroh-Pin’an and K’ng Huat for peace for instance. Hang these in your house and you’ll get whatever you wish for.

* Display ponkans and oranges in homes and stores. Tangerines are symbolic of good luck, and oranges are symbolic of wealth. (I surely could use both – good luck and wealth but I’m too stingy to buy them)

* Prepare wealth baskets. Get a small basket, lay a red cloth at the bottom and put one or two kilos of rice on the cloth. Next, get a red envelope (called Lai-See or Hong-Bao) and put money inside. If you want to be very wealthy, put money of all denominations inside the envelope and put the envelop under the rice. Place the basket beside a mirror so that the reflection will double the bounty in the wealth basket.

(Note: basket, red cloth, rice and envelope easy to comply with. The problem is I don’t have a complete set of the denominations of money. As if you don’t know how fast money slips through one’s fingers. In short, since I have nothing, I will have ‘double nothing’ for the whole year! Uh-uhh…)

* After the new year, cook the rice and eat this with all members of the family to symbolize peace and unity. Even if a family member could not attend, an empty seat would be kept to symbolize that person’s presence at the banquet.

(There would be more empty seats than occupied ones in my family because we’re separated by distance)

* The money inside the envelope is not to be spent but be deposited in the bank. (This is the hardest part, don’t you agree? The best advise I can give you is to go straight to the bank and deposit the money before the temptation to go malling gets too strong.)

* Speaking manners is very important during the new year.

The “It’s-not-what-you-say-but-how-you-say-it” that matters most. Do not lie on new year’s day, especially on money matters or you’ll be lying your way the whole year through, moneyless, too.

(If you borrow money from me, I’ll be honest and tell you sweetly that it is intended for other purposes, which does not include my letting you borrow some… urggh.)

* Prepare something for the kitchen god. By tradition, the Kitchen God or Zaowang leaves the house on the night after new year to report to heaven on the behavior of the family. To obtain a favorable report from the Kitchen God, the family will do everything possible, including giving him a ritualistic farewell dinner with sweet foods and honey. Popular in the Philippines is “tikoy”, a sweet concoction made form sticky rice and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Some said this is to bribe the kitchen god and seal his mouth from saying bad things.

(Hehee- even though I’m not a kitchen god, I love to eat tikoy but it doesn’t have the same effect on me. It only leaves me craving for more.)

* Another ancient custom during the new year is the Lai-See, also called Hong Bao, meaning Red Packet. This involves married couples giving children and unmarried adults money in red envelopes, to wish them goodluck in finding their future partners.

(I sure could use the money inside the envelope but I’m not so sure about the ‘future partner’ thing… Maybe I’ll just take care of this matter myself…)

Kung Hei Fat Choi (Have a blissful New Year to all)!

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