Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The price of tradition


Every time when Chinese New Year comes usually I have this standoff about a tradition – books not allowed in the living room.

My father says that books must be kept from eye’s view during Chinese New Year because it signifies bad luck, the word ‘book’ in Cantonese sounds similar to ‘lose’. Not for me bibilophiliac who prefers to see books all over my place, obviously. Books are keys to accessing vast knowledge and windows to epic stories. How in any way will it signify ‘lose’?

But, traditions are traditions anyway, they are incomprehensible, unspoken laws of the culture that everyone follows to avoid the ominous ‘bad luck’. And while I’m at it, let me tell you some other traditions for the Chinese New Year :

  • No sweeping of the floor during the first day of the New Year, signifying sweeping good luck out of the house.
  • No speaking ill of anyone or anything during the period
  • No wearing of black or white clothes during New Year.
  • Families with members who recently kick the bucket are not allowed to celebrate within 100 days of the day

And now for the yes(es):

  • Wear RED. Red shirt, red pants, red stockings, red shoes. Red underwear for bonus luck.
  • Giving angpaus to the younger : Signifying…a long story….. oh well, Once upon a time there was this monster call ‘nian’ which comes every New Year to attack the villages. The children will be scared and cry, attracting the attention of the monster. So the adults bribe the children with angpau to keep them quiet. 
  • Stay up all night, or as long as possible. Not really practised now due to health reasons… But it felt sorta nice to be able to play the night off with mahjong and Cho Tai Di. Some believe that staying up signify their parents living longer and healthier.
  • CIMG8405            Eat all kind of ‘auspicious’ food. New Year Cakes signifying ‘scaling to greater heights year after year’, steamed fish signifying ‘many leftovers every year’, eating ‘Fa Cai’ (Nostoc commune var. flagelliforme, something to do with nitrogen) signifying prosperity. The list goes on…
  • Play with firecrackers (safely under supervision of adults) Related to the ‘nian’ monster, it is alleged that the villagers burn firecrackers to scare the monster away with its loud sounds.
  • And of course, seasonal auspicious greetings, e.g. 恭喜發財 新年快樂 萬事如意 大吉大利 招財進寶 風調雨順 好運當頭 青春美麗 et cetera.                                                   

Oh and my family practises some Taoism, and are going to welcome the God of Prosperity tonight at midnight. (around 11PM to 1 AM to the direction of South-East) Well, that’s all, and Gong Xi Fatt Chai!

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