Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Traditional elements and symbols of the Chinese New Year to welcome the Year of the Tiger

The first day of 2010 in the Chinese calendar has a little extra significance this year, as it coincides with the Christian tradition of St Valentine's Day. In the Chinese tradition, Feb 14 this year is the New Year "visiting day" when Chinese people traditionally give presents to show love and care for others, and also make a fresh start.

Tossaporn Sritula, an expert on Chinese feng shui, culture and traditions, shows how to arrange a Chinese New Year prayer offering on the Tesco Lotus Chinese New Year VCD, available at every Tesco Lotus store.

To give added insights to Thai-Chinese celebrating their New Year, feng shui expert Tossaporn Sritula provides some useful information on the significance of the forthcoming festive time and its true, ceremonial meaning.

- Feb 7 marks the beginning of Chinese New Year ceremony, coinciding with the 24th day of the 12th month in the Chinese calendar. Chinese families will give their home a thorough cleaning, because they believe that it's the day when the Kitchen God goes back to heaven to deliver a report. With the home thoroughly cleaned, the Kitchen God reports no untidiness of their homes.

Chinese New Year days

- Feb 7 marks the beginning of Chinese New Year ceremony, coinciding with the 24th day of the 12th month in the Chinese calendar. Chinese families will give their home a thorough cleaning as they believe that it's the day when the Kitchen God goes back to heaven to deliver his report. When all the home is thoroughly cleaned, the Kitchen God will give only good reports.

- Feb 12 is the shopping day when people go out to buy necessary items for worshipping their ancestors and gods.

Chinese hanging charms in different sizes and styles with prices starting at 9 baht.

- Feb 13 is the time when the gods are worshipped before sunrise. Later in the morning, Chinese families pay respects to their ancestors. According to tradition, this must be done before noon.

In the afternoon, they pray for homeless spirits and burn firecrackers to drive away bad luck and welcome good fortune. Every night of the New Year they pray and offer food to the God of Luck. They must face in a southeasterly direction when they pray, and prayers start at the first hour of New Year, from 11pm on Feb 13 to 1am on Feb 14.

- Feb 14 is the first day of the first month of the lunar calendar, and the start of the year when Chinese people visit their families or relatives. There are certain things they need to avoid on this day, and they are obliged to speak and act positively. When visiting their relatives, they present them with four oranges signifying good luck. This is also the day for giving ang pao, the lucky red envelopes containing money, to their children.

Ceremonial prayers

Some modern Thai-Chinese might see the praying tradition as complicated and time-consuming, but in fact, praying to the gods and ancestors is easier than they might think. The essential items can all be found in shops so that the New Year traditions can be passed easily from one generation to another.

People with little time to spare tend to concentrate their worship on the gods that bring good fortune. For this, the necessary items include a platter of three kinds of meat (pork, duck and chicken); a platter of three desserts and a platter of three kinds of fruit; three rice bowls, joss paper, a tea set for three or five, flowers, candles and incense. Additional items for praying for ancestors are five dishes of food. Normally each family prepares their ancestors' favourite dishes, one of which must be soup.

However, anyone who wishes to make the complete prayer cycle needs to prepare five platters each of meat, desserts and fruit. The tea set also needs to be for five, while dishes of food may range from five to 10. To worship the God of Luck, all the dishes need to be vegan and should comprise shiitake mushrooms, ear mushrooms, glass noodles, dried bean curd and dried daylily. Liquor can also be added to the list when praying to the gods, but it's optional.

As a contribution to the understanding of the Chinese New Year tradition, Tesco Lotus is offering a Chinese New Year VCD, which explains the practice and meaning of the ceremonial rituals. It features Tossaporn Sritula, who provides the narration and explains feng shui for the Year of the Tiger that will bring fortune and prosperity.

Tesco Lotus stores nationwide are also offering more than 100 Chinese New Year items with one-stop shopping convenience from now until February 14. RT

MEANINGS OF CHINESE NEW YEAR ITEMS

MEATS

Nian gao, sticky cakes that signifies unity and togetherness as well as sweetness.

Pork symbolises prosperity, abundance and well-being.

Chicken has two meanings. One is career progress as the cockscomb resembles a Chinese mandarin's hat; the other is punctuality and diligence as the cock wakes up and crows early in the morning.

Duck signifies the ability to carry out many tasks.

A fish symbolises abundance and prosperity as the Chinese word for it, fifyu, sounds like the word for plenty.

Lobster or dried squid signifies power and good fortune as a lobster head looks grand and powerful. Dried squid can be substituted for lobster as it has the same meaning and its tentacles are believed to be able to seize good fortune. It is also lower in price.

SWEET TREATS

Chinese cup cakes suggest blossoming and progress.

Chinese sweets made of many ingredients including sweet sesame bars, bean bars, sugar coated beans, dried sweetened gourd and popped rice all symbolise fertility.

Steamed buns or fifsalabao suggest saving money, as fifbao means to wrap.

Nian gao is a sticky cake that signifies unity and togetherness as well as sweetness.

Glutinous rice flour balls (fiftang yuen) in palm sugar syrup mean that life will be easy and sweet like the dessert itself.

FRUITS

The peach in a peach bun, also known as birthday bun, signifies good health and longevity.

Oranges are believed to bring good luck because of their colour.

Bananas grow in bunches, so they signify a large family with many children. They are also believed to attract good luck and prosperity.

Apples symbolise peace and good health. The word for apple in Chinese is fifping, which is a homonym for peace.

Pineapple is synonymous with having vision. It is also another symbol of good fortune because in the Hokkien dialect the word for pineapple is fifang lai, which translates as ``wealth comes''.

Grapes mean abundance and health.

Pears are another symbol of prosperity, but are not to be used in praying to ancestors and homeless spirits.

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