Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Gung hay fat choy!

Yesterday was Chinese New Year. We celebrate Chinese New Year at Wayfarer House as an honor to the traditions of Shaolin which Wifeness and I have studied for several years, and as another way celebrate the blessings and importance of family. It’s also a great excuse to have a feast!

Our celebration employs some of the same traditions you might see in a larger, more elaborate event, but, in true Wayfarer House fashion, we’ve adapted them (we hope without losing any of the symbolism) to give them a certain “unique local flavor”.

The Chinese New Year is celebrated as the symbol of spring's impending arrival, but it is also a time of family reunion. Family members traditionally gather at each other's homes for visits and shared meals, and there is often a feast on New Year's Eve. The last several years, both halves of Wayfarer House have come together, and the feast begins with copious amounts of Chinese food. All the foods we love are there, and there are never a lot of leftovers.

After the food has been cleared away and fortune cookies have been read (including the obligatory interpretation which includes adding the phrase “in bed” to each one [who came up with that, anyway?]), we adjourn to the living room for a lion dance. In Chinese mythology, the lion is regarded as a guardian creature. A lion dance is often performed at New Year’s as a ceremony to exorcise evil spirits and to summon luck and fortune.

Wayfarer House has its own lion. He is a southern lion, and most closely resembles a Zhao Yun** lion (which has a green tail with white beard and fur and an iron horn), although his face is red, which symbolizes loyalty, righteousness and bravery. Even though our lion came to us by complete whimsy, there’s a certain symbolism in his identity that really fits our home.

Normally, when a dancing lion enters a village or township, it is supposed to pay its respects first at the local temple, then to the ancestors at the ancestral hall, and finally through the streets to bring happiness to all the people. At Wayfarer House, the lion comes out to traditional dance music and pays its respects to the adults, then goes to look for the lettuce that has been tied above the door along with several red envelopes. The lion approaches the lettuce with cat-like curiosity, eventually eating it, spitting out the leaves but not the envelopes. The lion then dances around, visiting the children in turn, bringing good luck and fortune to them in the form of one of the envelopes (which contain a small amount of money). It’s a pale imitation of a real lion dance, but it’s fun and the kids really like seeing Wifeness dance around with our little lion. The money’s a hit, too.

This coming year is the Year of the Ox. The ox is characterized in Chinese mythology as being tolerant, stable and perservering. Oxen are resolute and fearless when deciding to accomplish a task, and they will work hard and without complaint because they know that they will succeed through sustained effort. This year, then, is symbolized as being a good one for recognizing that prosperity comes from hard work. Any efforts that are approached systematically and with patience will see success. Oxen are not known for being truly imaginative, and this year is not expected to be one where risky, adventurous and exciting endeavors will see good results. That doesn’t mean that one can’t think outside the box or pursue one’s ambitions, but the sense of the year is that any undertakings this year will undoubtedly require rolling up sleeves and getting dirty through good, honest labor. Strong codes and ethics will be important to getting through the year in good form. So, also, will it be prudent to avoid working too much, too hard, or getting stressed, angry or emotional about things.

I am still in the process of putting together my list of goals for this year, but I’m definitely feeling mindful of what the year will hold. There are several things I know I need to do that will need the kind of focused, dedicated work that seems to be a hallmark of this year’s energy. Perhaps this is the year these things get done.

** A Zhao Yun lion is called the Heroic Lion because it is said that Zhao Yun rode through Cao Cao’s million man army to rescue Liu Bei’s infant at the battle of Changban, then fought his way back out again. Chinese history is nothing if not replete with romantic imagery.

1 comment:

Kizz said...

I celebrated (a little late) last night by ordering WAY too much Chinese food and re-watching the Inauguration.