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Sunday, March 07, 2010

In Honor of Grandpa's Birthday 

Today would have been my Grandpa Chow's 88th Birthday.

Our family met today at the Memorial Park where he was interred. (we've been back on several occasions already, so this wasn't the first time.)

My Grandma is so good about following the traditions passed to her by her ancestors, and she has done such a good job of teaching and passing these traditions down to her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

I hesitated asking if I could take this photo, but Grandma said it was okay. I thought it would be good to document what it is that we do for these occasions. I know the symbolism of some of the items, and am still learning what other things mean.

We always present the basics: incense, a chicken, roasted pork, three bowls of rice, and three small cups filled with whiskey. I should look up the meaning behind each of these items, but I do know that the three bowls of rice and cups of whiskey are offerings to the gods. The oranges and tangerines symbolize luck and wealth. The other items - the dim-sum and bao were some of Grandpa's favorites. We also had cookies (with birthday candles!) for his birthday. The tradition of presenting all of this food is so that the deceased can enjoy their favorite foods.

I learned about another specific part of the tradition today. I've always known that the chicken head should face forward - towards the grave. I learned today that you also pull off the bottom part of the beak of the chicken and break off the tips of the wings. My Auntie told me today that the reason why you break off the bottom of the beak is so the chicken cannot talk badly about your family. :)

After we offer the food, we burn (fake) money (so we can send them money in the afterlife), and more incense.

I really value the traditions that my Grandma has passed along to our family. I've learned that these are Old-World traditions, which are still regularly practiced in the rural Southern Villages in China where our family is from. As people move to more urban areas, they stop following many of these traditions, which I think is a shame. It seems like such an important tie to one's culture and heritage.


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