Textures of Traditions

The thing that is so enthralling about Chinese culture is its tremendous regard for tradition. Easily charged by the misguided mind (pardon but this author included) as superstitions, the many components of Chinese custom evident in the coming Chinese New Year celebration are after all but honest musings about life.

Mysterious and colorful, the Chinese New Year is an opportunity for the curious to experience the many textures of this festivity.

Sun.Star Plus & Special observes the coming of the Year of the Rabbit with the Buddha Light International Association, to know the fascinating meanings behind these age-old practices.

Starting clean

As logical as it is ceremonial, the anticipation of the New Year begins with the traditional “cleansing of the temple.”

Like many beginnings, it is right to start with a clean slate and the physical manifestation such as the cleaning of the temple is a reminder to shed-off the bad things (and habits we’ve cultivated) of the past year.

Hanging wishes

Just right at foot of the altar are two electrically lighted trees with yellow jewels suggesting either flower or foliage on which branches envelopes containing written wishes will be placed, said Ben Chua, vice president of the association.

He said that the trees represent the Bhodi tree, which according to Buddhist tradition, is the tree in whose shade Siddhartha Gautama meditated and received his enlightenment.

Summoning good rain

As the New Year comes, it is tradition for the temple’s master, this time Master Ru Seng, to beat the drum located at the left side of the temple’s entrance.

She climbs up tall chair made for this occasion, positioning herself to reach the drum. Then she’ll ceremoniously strike it to create a sound of progressing rhythm. The sound, like that of soft thunder, intones the heavens to “let the rain come but just enough for the crops to grow,” said Chua.

Aside from the drum, the temple master will also toll the bell located at the right side of temple for a hundred and eight times. Chua said that the 108 strikes signify to get rid of “108 worries” of man according to Buddhist tradition.

Auspicious Ang-pao

It is tradition that on Chinese New Year younger people line up to the elderly to receive an ang-pao, a red envelope that contains a monetary gift. It suggests the bid for good fortune for the coming year.

“The amount inside the envelope doesn’t really matter,” said Chua, who himself keeps an ang-pao inside his wallet.

“We uphold traditions because it reminds us of our roots. It’s been there for a long time, so there might be some good reason why we should keep them and why it is beneficial for us to continue observing them,” said Chua.

Chinese traditionWhat’s on the table

One charming characteristic of Chinese tradition is how meaning can be drawn from almost everything, from food for example. The Chinese derive meanings from how food sounds like, take the ones below for example, which as you guessed are perfect for the New Year’s feast! Mrs. Tan Ngai Guimchu, a Buddha devotee, tells us what’s in the menu.

Pineapple. Ong lai in Chinese, the cacophony of pineapple suggests for prosperity to come.

“Ong” sounds like “prosperous” and lai sounds “come.”

Raddish. So that you’ll always have food for the rest of the year. Raddish is tsai (vegetable) khao (head) is Chinese.

Huat khe. Is a delicacy made of camote flour. Huat khe means “to increase.”

Mis hua. The noodles suggest longer life.

Lumpia. As it’s preparation involves the family, fresh lumpia means the coming of family together.

Tikoy. Sweet in the palette, tikoy reminds us to “speak sweet words.” From the wisdom if Venerable Master Hsin Yun, we ought to “speak good words, think of good things and do good deeds.”

Experience a vegetarian Chinese New Year treat for only P100 excluding drinks at the So Gung Shan Chun Buddhist Temple located at V. Rama, Cebu City on Feb. 3 from 6 p.m. until 12 midnight. Songs and dances will also be rendered by different school groups. (Jose Jello Cubelo)

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Photos by Amper Campaña