Saturday, February 27, 2021

China: Happy New Year of the Ox and The legend of the Big-footed Queen....

Year of the Ox--Steady, Strong, Persevering, Diligent, Helpful, Dependable, Hardworking

This was my fifth Chinese New Year living in Asia--always a treasured time to have another new year celebration. February 12, 2021, was the beginning of the new year of the ox in China. The ox is the second animal in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac calendar. The ox is the symbol of steadiness and reliable assistance in times of need. It is the animal who for centuries has brought the awaited and promised harvest. Chinese New Year or Spring Festival (as they call it) is a joyful time when China slows down for a week. All the stores, many restaurants, and shops close for at least this one night and possibly the next day. If it is at all possible, everyone goes home to their village to see their family. It is very important that every effort is made to return home. People save all year for the trip if they live far from their province. 

It starts on New Year's Eve, the day before New Year's. This is a special time when the family gathers together to eat favorite dishes (Fish is always eaten to show hope for abundance and prosperity), play games, and usually watch the nationally televised New Year's program on TV. Family reunions and gatherings are very important, and usually, throughout the next week, people go around visiting cousins, aunts, uncles, and even further extended family. There is a festive, happy spirit in the air with abundant lights, red banners, and signs everywhere. The government now bans fireworks, but you can still hear them going off sporadically during the holidays. They are supposed to ward off bad spirits. 

Chinese New Year is the beginning of a new year, renewed hopes and dreams. It's fun to relive it again--this time with a Chinese flair.

Children are supposed to get new clothes, and of course, in red.

I saw a lot of mahjong games. Apparently, many families spend many hours during the week playing the Chinese game of checkers.

Friends at our front door. Everyone decorates their door with banners that state blessings for those who enter of long life, prosperity, and health. 
A Chinese New Year gathering at our house
Making dumplings
Boiling the dumplings...

Chinese New Year's Eve at a restaurant with friends

This year making different colored dumplings

Playing games together...

Dancing and charades

On the street, there are many games to be played.

More mahjong games on the street

Family members give red envelopes with money as a present for loved ones. Many restaurants decorate with empty red envelopes.

Steamed seafood that is popular here in Tianjin for the holiday

Chinese New Year is a time to bring out all the culinary skills and delights.

More new red clothes for the Chinese New Year...

Kumquats or kumquat trees are a common gift during Chinese New Year. The Chinese word for kumquats is jinjr, which means gold. It is a blessing and gift to have prosperity for the year.

Oxes--the Chinese symbol of steadiness...
Some Oxes made out of a basket material we saw in Yangshou last summer. The ox is indeed revered, especially in the villages where they are depended on for their harvest.

                                                The Legend of the Big-Footed Queen

On almost every door in China, you will see the character of Fu, which means fortune, or jufu means blessing. But often time, you will see that it is hung upside down on everyone's door. The story is that Emperor Ziuyuanzhang and his Queen Ma Huanghou went on a stroll on New Year's Eve to see the lanterns hanging around the village. They walked up to one lantern where some of the villagers were laughing at an image on the lantern. 

It was a drawing of a woman on a horse with big feet. The image was in reference to Queen Ma who was known to come from poverty and did not have the small bound, dainty feet the women all aspired to have at that time in China. The horse the character was riding on was talking about the Queen's family's name, which was Ma (meaning horse in Mandarin). The emperor was furious and wanted revenge on justice on whoever had mocked his wife. He ordered his guards to find the person who drew the picture and turn their door symbol upside down so the assassin would know which door to secretly enter to kill that person. 

When the queen heard the emperor's plan, she was sad and did not want anyone to die because of her. She ordered her servants to flip all the signs upside down on all of the villagers' doors so the assassin would not know which door was the right one to enter. This unexpected order saved all the lives of the family from which the lantern came from. They were so grateful and told everyone of the queen's mercy. People then decided to turn their signs upside-down every Chinese New Year to celebrate the compassionate queen.