New year notes
We are not a Chinese family.
But Chinese New Year, which falls on January 28 and will usher in the Year of the Fire Rooster, is a special celebration in our home because Jeff lived and worked in the cities of Beijing and Guangzhou for close to a decade, while I lived and studied in Shanghai and Guangzhou for a collective number of three years.
Around this time at our home in Guangzhou, potted plants with miniature oranges (or they could be kumquat trees) are placed by the building or apartment entrance to bring in good luck.
My Chinese professor told me oranges look like the sun and is aligned with the yang (positive) principle. This means that this is an auspicious symbol that would bring in happiness and abundance to any home or office that places them on their doorways.
In the Philippines, it is a practice to have 12 kinds of round fruits in a bowl. Round or circle as a shape has no beginning and no end so it is believed that blessings will continue to flow within that family.
In mainland China, it need not be 12 kinds of round fruits. May, the English name of our elevator attendant at the Garden Hotel Apartments, used to say in Mandarin Chinese: “No need for 12 kinds of fruits when you have hundreds of oranges.”
Feng shui expert Marites Allen, in a recent media Meet and Greet Media Event held at the Montebello Villa Hotel, emphasized the importance of eating tikoy and fish on January 28 to bring in prosperity, good health and happiness to the homes and offices.
The general knowledge about eating tikoy follows that since this food is sticky, it makes sure that good luck sticks or clings to you. Tikoy is called nian gao (rice cake) in Mandarin Chinese. It relates to the phrase “nian nian gao sheng” which basically means “prosperity increase year after year.” It may not be known in large Chinese cities now but eating rice cakes on Chinese New Year, which is also called the Spring Festival, marks the beginning of rice harvest on the spring season.
And then there’s the fish: “yu” is its Mandarin Chinese name which is a homophone for prosperity/surplus/extra. (Confused why this is so? Chinese is a tonal language so one syllable such as “yu” has four different meanings.) A common phrase said during the New Year is “nian nian you yu” which literally means “every year have prosperity” or “may the year bring prosperity.”
If you turn to your digital best friend named Google to ask about the history of the red envelopes or hongbao (ang pao in Hokkien and lai see in Cantonese), you will be told several legends about how the tradition came to be. The unifying theme is that the red color basically wards off evil spirits and bad luck. Over time, the tradition has evolved and in Filipino Chinese families, children and the unmarried members of the family receive their red envelopes with cash from parents and grandparents. It’s a tradition that a very close friend of mine loves because the cash inside these envelopes are considered as “lucky money.”
Migration culture is strong in China. Men from smaller Chinese towns come to bigger cities like Guangzhou to work. They get two weeks off during the Chinese New Year season and this is when they go all out, said my suki at the local wet market in Guangzhou where I used to buy my vegetables. He is originally from Henan province and he moved to Guangdong province (where the city of Guangzhou belongs to) for the proverbial “greener pastures.”
In Henan, he is like the returning hero who have conquered the big dragon of a city. He comes home with food supplies and a stack of red envelopes.
He said this is how a real Chinese man serves his family highlighting their Chinese values and the responsibilities accorded to each member of the family according to Confucius.
The festive season for us, Cebuanos, hasn’t ended with Sinulog.
Today, we welcome the Year of the Fire Rooster.
In two weeks’ time, it’s Valentine’s Day.
Wherever you are in the world today, I wish you and your families good health, prosperity and happiness. Xin nian kuai le! Happy New Year!
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