After New Year’s Day I don’t do much for the next couple of days except follow the customs of eating the leftovers from the New Year’s Eve banquet. There are special activities and customs for these days but they really are not things I can apply to my life until the 4th day of the festival and the new month. The 11th of February on the western calendar marks the return home of the Stove God and his wife. They leave the heaven early in the morning to ensure a return to their earthly home by the afternoon of that day. I am always glad when the Stove God and his wife return. The only time in the last year I have overheated a pan because the stove unit did not get turned off properly was in the week when the picture of the couple had been taken down from above the stove. Perhaps the image is just a reminder to be diligent around fire but however it works I don’t care, as long as it does. In the mid-afternoon I happily pasted the clean new picture above the stove and breathed a sigh of relief along with my welcome homes. Although the job of the Stove God is to keep a watchful eye on the family and report to heaven I never feel the surveillance in a bad way, maybe just because I am thrifty, diligent and live a very circumscribed life. My report must be rather boring.
The next day is another day whose custom I followed this year. On the 5th day businesses open and it is the day to welcome the God of Wealth. Traditionally the lion dance teams would go to the business district streets and parade in the hopes businesses would ask them to perform a dance to bring prosperity and reward them with a red envelope.The first transaction of the day should be a successful one to bring in good business for the rest of the year. This cannot be done with internet businesses and there is no lion dance team in my town but I made a special point to honor the God of Wealth so I can grow my business his year. There are many versions of the God of Wealth but one of the most popular is Cai Bo Xing Jun. Any and all of them can be given offerings on this day.
This year I really need fortune to shine while house hunting, so on the 9th day I made the required dinner for the birthday of the Jade Emperor, three dishes of long noodles, three cups of green tea, five dishes of fruits and six dishes of dry vegetables. I decorated my hall table with a long runner and put out all the dishes in a nice display. The next day is considered the day to consume the offering dishes. I love how practical the customs are, the food is not wasted. A Chinese friend once told me the story of a Chinese man who was asked about the food offerings left for ancestors “Do you expect them to come back and eat the food?” His reply was “Do you expected your departed to rise and come smell the flowers?” But even food offered to the exalted Jade Emperor is afterward consumed by the family. Then there were a few quiet days until the 14th day when I prepared for the Lantern Festival.
This year I have a special treat for the Lantern Festival. I found a pair of rather battered vintage wood framed Chinese lanterns in a thrift shop. I glued the loose, cracked wood and repaired the torn silk panels on one lantern and now I have them to hang for the festival every year. It used to be the custom for people to make their own lanterns on this day to have ready for the festival itself on the 15th and last day of the celebrations. Now as with many things, busy people buy their lanterns, so I felt more in touch with tradition for having restored those vintage ones, like those in the picture to the right. I hung other, store lanterns as well but they were the centerpiece. I just got plain white lanterns because they remind me of moon and the fact that it is the night of the first full moon of the lunar year.
Also I made yuanxiao or as they are called in southern China tangyuan. I used the northern style savory filling but the southern style assembly method where you insert the filling into the rice ball, partly because I like them a little bigger like they do in the south. Also the northern method of alternately soaking the filling and.shaking or rolling in the flour is more time consuming. Afterward the dumplings go into a clear soup and I still had some of the wonderful stock I made from the Thanksgiving chicken which was perfect. It was like eating a bowl of delicious little full moons. Although I did freeze some dumplings to see how that would work, this was my last festive treat before getting the year off to some really hard work. I hope all this effort brings me not only some luck but a sense of connection and purpose to accomplish all my goals.