Chinese New Year At School

Tomorrow marks the start of a new year for Chinese people. It is the year of the Rabbit. Today, it is still New Year’s Eve. Firecrackers have been going off all day and local shopkeepers have been setting up shrines in front of their premises. Several that I passed today were burning paper money and other objects. At school this afternoon, the administrators made an offering of a large banquet to Chinese Gods and also their ancestors. It is also traditional to wear red on this day but for some reason not so many people do that these days.

On New Year’s Eve, many of the Thai people with Chinese blood will go and visit their elders. At my school, there was an average of about five students in each class that were absent today. They eagerly went with their parents to visit their grandparents as they knew they would receive a red envelope with some money inside. My next door neighbours this morning had set up a small shrine in front of their house. As I was eating breakfast they had just finished their offering of food to the Gods and were setting off the firecrackers.

At school they probably had one of the biggest feasts laid out for the Gods in my area. Maybe with the expectation that they will receive great merit in return. Each of the food items have special meaning. For example: glass noodles (longevity), chicken (dignity), duck (cleanliness and harmony), pig (abundance), fish (wealth and fertility), oranges (affluence), pear (good fortune) and gourd (abundance). So they pick and choose the food carefully.

After paying respect to the deities, the burning incense sticks are then placed in each of the plates of food. Each person does this three times so they end up lighting three sets of incense sticks. This number is linked to how the Chinese bow three times to their elders and images of their ancestors. In fact, every part of this ceremony has meaning from the time it starts to the layout of the food. Nothing is random. For Gods there should be one rice bowl in front of the incense bowl. Then there are four rows of food: vegetarian dishes, meat dishes, fruits and desserts.

Furthest away from the incense bowl are the stack of paper clothing and gold and silver papers. Once all of the food has been offered to the Gods, then it is time to burn the paper offerings. This starts with the paper clothing and paper money. And then the gold and silver paper. There was also paper mobile phones and even cars. At the completion the firecrackers were set off. Nothing is wasted. The householders can now eat the food themselves, though often this is donated to friends and neighbours. I certainly got more than I could eat today.

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