Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Spring Festival, Tujia style

Dishes prepared by Betty's mother

Mai Wah President Pat Munday’s grad student, Ding Kedan (丁科丹) aka “Betty” writes about the upcoming Spring Festival/New Year celebration. Compare this to the meal Huie Pock shared with his Butte guests in 1896.

"I'm going home for the Chinese New Year~Yeah~It is my last winter vacation as a student. Still remember I'm Tujia People? Our celebration for New Year might be a little bit different than that in big cities. Before the New Year, the elders will make Ziba (a kind food made by sticky rice),sausage, and smoked bacon. They make so many food to make sure that when New Year comes, we still have enough food to eat which means richness for the whole year.

"On the New Year Eve, when it comes to 12 o'clock, we are going to set the firecrackers to celebrate, the first one who set the firecrackers will be the luckiest guy.

"In my home, on New Year Eve, my father and I will paste the antithetical couplet and my Mum will cook a lot of dishes (usually 12 dishes). Then on the first day of New Year, we will climb mountains (which means you will get better in life and higher in job) and bring wood (in Chinese Pronunciation, we call it 柴 chai, which has a homophonic meaning with 财 cai (means money in English)) back home. Then in the following days, we are going to go to relatives' houses and give New Years' greetings. I will get a lot of 压岁钱 yasuiqian,which means gift money for children. Although I'm already 26, in elders' eyes, I'm a little kid.”

Pat adds some clarification:

We Americans often think of China as composed of a single ethnic group, but in addition to the majority Han population there are about 56 other minorities. These minorities include well known groups such as Tibetans, Mongolians, and Uighurs as well as less well known (to Americans) groups such as Ding Kedan’s Tujia People. Somewhat like American Indian Tribes, Chinese minorities tend to be localized to specific geographical areas although — again like Native Americans — socio-political forces have often scattered them far from their ancestral home.

Antithetical couplet
The “antithetical couplet” (对联 or “duilian”) that Ding Kedan refers to is a set of two poetic phrases brush painted on paper or fabric and hung outside the front door. It is a rhythmic, visually symmetrical couplet that expresses a wish for happiness and good fortune in the coming year—a little like the “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Birthday” banners that Americans hang at parties.

In China, words with similar sounds are often believed to express similar meanings. For example, the number 8 (Bā) sounds like the word for fortune/wealth (Fā) and therefore 8 is a lucky number. My wife and I attended a Chinese wedding, and the ceremony began at 8:08 p.m. to insure good luck for the happy couple.

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