On the eve of Chinese New Year’s, several things are traditionally done. First is a display of flowers. In our home we have a vase with a display of Cherry Blossoms. If you are able to acquire several branches off of a tangerine tree, even better! If not, tying them to the branches of the cherry blossom is also commonly done.
The altar which holds the family plaque pays homage to the elders of our family. It is believed that the ancestors live on perpetually in the afterlife and have influence in the fortune of the living family. This is why we pay respects to our ancestors.
On the alter itself there are a variety of items with various meanings. On it lies a tangerine and some garlic.They are often found together and represent luck and a good long life and fortune. You will also find three cups that are filled with tea, or in other households it may contain 2 cups of tea and 1 cup of rice wine. When we are ready to say our thanks, we also place three incense in a cup filled with rice grains.
Next, a table is set up with dishes of sweet goods, fruit, and chicken as an offering to our ancestors. We bow and thank our ancestors for looking over us in the present life. In the photo below, we see three cups filled with rice wine, sweet and salted pasteries. A whole chicken, a whole goose and some tea. My father is preparing another ritual.
We wait several minutes in an act to allow our ancestors to eat the food we’ve provided for them and then begin another ritual of burning paper goods . These origami like goods represent real life items and are burned in symbolism of passing from our life to the next.
The burnings are done at the alter, the kitchen, and at the main entrances and exit of the house (front and back yard door).
I’ve gotten many variations of what each one means, but I’ll try to give it my best shot.
These are trail markings. The gold in the center are used to help guide the people in the afterlife from place to place such as trail blazes in hiking areas. They help the souls find their way around the hell ( theres no heaven or hell, its just one big place called hell, and it’s not the same kind of Christian hell where everyone burns. I think this actually came from a bad translation at one point in time).
I promise ill find out what these mean and update this blog sometime in the future. These items are burned quite a few times a year during various festive.
At the dinner table in my family, we will find mostly meat. We generally don’t eat too much meat in this house. It’s just the way my parents taste preferences are and so are mine. So we’ll find holidays packed with meats usually. We did end up popping a 23 year old bottle of champagne that my dad received….20 years ago. It was quite dark and much sweeter than I expected. And yes that’s a bottle of Knobb Creek hiding behind it!
This food will usually last almost 7-8 days. So the other 3 chickens we cooked were padded down with salt to preserve it. This helps keep it from rotting in the fridge and maintains its taste for several more days.
For the next few days, the ritual is done again in the morning. We light several incense and set up the table to give thanks to our ancestors and continue with our day. For those who can, we’ll light some fireworks inside the house to ward off evil spirits. But living in NYC, it isn’t much of a choice.
And that’s it for the rituals!