Thursday, February 25, 2010

Chinese New Year....3 more days

Today is the 12th day of Chinese New Year. 3 days left before Chinese New Year ends. Where have I been and what have I been doing?
I think I over worked myself a wee bit this year or......age has finally caught up? Yeah? My feet were the ones to prove the age part. They started to protest by giving me pain. Oh....I had to give them a little pampering before the Chinese New Year actually starts.
Did I stop work after the 'protest' by the feet? The picture will tell the answer. Ah well, Chinese New Year only comes round once a year. Doesn't almost everyone say that.... A cliche no?
Before the reunion dinner in the evening, prayers are made to the ancestors. This is done at mom-in-laws' place (for my case it is) whilst for others', it is usually done in their own homes.

For readers who are not familiar with our customs; note that the offerings may vary from household to household. This year ours' are a tad simple because Matriarch (my mom-in-law) is away! :)
Joss papers (folded into shapes) are normally burnt at the end of prayers. After this, it will signify the end of prayer session.

Like this cloth couplet that is hung over the door? I have always liked it when I put up this cloth couplet. Somehow, the happy feeling towards the festival usually set in no matter how tired you are. Is it just me or does it happen to others too? Actually, I'm not sure because I've not bothered to ask any one. Our custom comes with many taboos during this time. For example; 1) No brooms in sight. This will simply mean no sweeping of floors after 12 m/n on the eve of the New Year. 2) No swearing. Foul language is a no no. 3) Keep anger at bay. Ah well, I didn't at all. I blamed it on the weather which was extremely hot. 4) Black coloured clothing are out! 5) Make sure you are extra careful when handling anything that is breakable. Even more so if you are staying with your in-laws. ahem....!6) Start the first mouthful of food with anything sweet on the first day Chinese New Year. 7) Be Happy at all times. There are more but for now......I think I'll just make do with these few that came into my mind.
Prayers after the reunion dinner. This is normally done after 12 midnight. We didn't have any reunion dinner this year because like I've mentioned, matriarch is away. We did have a little gathering with the other in-laws but I was too tipsy to have any pictures taken. Notice the tiny strips of red papers around the fruits and all other items?
The sweet thingy/dessert that is usually eaten on the first day. This is also served to any visitors one may have on that day. There are many different ingredients used for this dessert. The ingredients used have their own meanings as to why they are used. Truth be told, I only know one, the red dates. It rhymes to have the meaning of having everything good the whole year through. Come to think of it, who made me cook this sweet every year then?
For Chinese, we love the colour red. Red signifies luck and prosperity. It is also the colour that Nian (ghoul which comes out during this time of the year) is afraid of. As such, we would normally have all our fruits decorated with strips of red paper. Tangerines are used extensively during this time. 'Kam' as it is said in Chinese means Gold. Now you know why it is used so much, no?

Remember I 'sent' Kitchen God off to heaven? Now it is time to 'invite' him back into our household. This happened on the 4th day of the first Lunar month. There is another prayer after this 4th day. That is the prayers to Jade Emperor on his birthday which falls on the 9th Day. It has passed and sad to say, I did only a small prayer so there weren't any pictures taken. Like I mentioned earlier, I over worked myself. Now I think I shall take a break here and go have a little rest (I think I need to). Till then.....another KEONG HEE HUAT CHAI, HUAT TUA CHAI everyone. Still 3 days left.......right? :o)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Kitchen God.....'sending off'

Today is the 23rd day of the last month of the Chinese Lunar year. The 23rd day is a day where Taoists carry out the tradition of 'sending' the Zao Jun (Kitchen God) to Heaven to present his report to the Jade Emperor. I am doing what my mother taught me and what grand mother taught my mother. For some this is done on the 23rd day whilst for others (mostly Hokkiens) it will be carried out on the 24th day. Kitchen God (from what I've heard and read) is a god who is sent from Heaven to guard and over see the family's affairs. I always believe it is more for the Lady of the house. I mean the person who stands and hovers over the stove daily. After all, this god is placed in the Kitchen and most of the time (though not always) sits facing the stove. Who spends more time in the kitchen than the Lady of the house, eh? At least, in this house it is me. :) This is a picture of my Kitchen God altar. Notice the offerings I have here for the 'sending off'. Mandarin oranges, a plate of sweets, tea and new clothes (paper clothes, that is) for Zao Jun (Kitchen God) and a Thni Kueh (translated as sweet cake--cirlced in the picture). Now this sweet cake is really sticky and it is made from glutinous rice flour and sugar. Steamed for 12 hours if I'm not wrong. This cake can keep for up to a year without being refrigerated. This thni kueh is a must and for a good reason. Since this cake is sticky, the practice of must have it is really compromising for us, trying to make full use of the sticky cake to prevent the Kitchen God from speaking ill of the family in Heaven by sticking/gluing his mouth shut. My grandma told me that this way, all Kitchen God could do when Jade Emperor asks questions was nod his head whether it is good or bad since his mouth is stuck together! A tacit kind of prayer you may think but for some this is tradition. Nowadays there aren't many people who observe this tradition any more especially those living in the city. Even for my generation, the practice is slowly diminishing. Whether it is tradition or not, I still practice because.....Its Chinese New Year and it comes round only once in 365/366 days! Then and again, to keep the tradition alive, no? Now, I hope Kitchen God will submit a good report on this family this year. My thni kueh is rather small this year. Ahaahaaa.
TO all my Chinese readers.....KONG HEI FATT CHOY, KEONG HEE HUAT CHAI, GONG XI FA CAI......how ever it is said, it means the same HAPPY CHINESE NEW YEAR! May the year of the Tiger bring you and family, Good Health, Good Luck, Good Fortune and Good Times. :o)