today is the first day of the year of the rooster! its been really special being in tainan the past 10 days and observing the lunar new year preparations slowly happening around the streets. at the hostel i am helping out at, we were also tasked with decorating the common areas with characters, red and gold.
除夕, the eve of the new year, is super important for chinese families. that evening, i found myself wandering the streets trying to find dinner. (i did have oats as a back up in case the search proved fruitless, no need to worry!)
as i walked through quiet, empty streets usually packed with noisy street carts, and brightly lit restaurants that spill out onto the pavement, it could have been thought of as eerie, or unsettling, or frankly an inconvenient nuisance, but it wasn’t. every closed up shopfront, every cart with a tarpaulin fastened over it, symbolised a family sitting together, around a table, celebrating together with their loved ones. all those dark empty streets meant lighted, warm, full living rooms in houses and apartments around the city, around Taiwan, China and the other Asian countries celebrating the lunar new year. getting to witness the inverse of the celebration felt like a peculiar privilege, one that never crosses my mind on days like christmas and easter, where i’m too caught up in my own family celebration to ponder others.
in my anthropology class last semester, we spent what seemed like a vast amount of time on 仪式, rituals. after reading hundreds of pages of readings regarding them, i got quite sick of the topic. however this chuxi, the necessity and wonder of rituals was so clear to me. how much we need to have things that we repeat, that mark and structure our days, months, years. that bring us together with those most important to us.
as part of the celebrations, people offer food as sacrifice. the incongruous sight of a whole chicken or duck, baked goods, fruit and other objects sitting on a table with incense sticking out of them like birthday candles has been common throughout the streets of tainan. when talking to a taiwanese girl the other day, she said “you must think it is a waste, and crazy!” I smiled and said i thought it was nothing of the sort. it reminded me of leaving milk, biscuits and carrots out for santa claus and rudolph. of making a gingerbread house that after a month of sitting out in the living room, was stale and inedible when we took it away after christmas. of dyed eggs at easter time. doing something for the sake of ritual, of love, of culture, is the thing that assures me we aren’t the money hungry, materialistic robots that newspapers warn of. and how very reassuring that walk through the streets was, in the most surprising of ways.