Chinese New Year: Embrace the Year of the Pig (& Earth element)

Pig on pink with words Happy New Year

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 5: The Chinese Year of the Pig starts today, with a 15-day celebration that circles the globe.

The color red, which is considered auspicious and homophonous with the Chinese word for “prosperous,” dominates décor in nearly every event. The Spring Festival, as it is also termed, ushers in warmer weather and marks the time of great gatherings among family and friends. When the New Year approaches, it is customarily ushered in with a Reunion Dinner that is replete with symbolic foods. For two weeks, visits are made and hosted with family and friends, gifts are exchanged and merriment is par for the course. Alternatively, this joyous occasion is called the Spring Festival.

Care to see more? The UK’s Evening Standard has photos of a portion of the billions of travelers undergoing the trip to or across China, which currently makes up the world’s largest human migration.

Gold piggy banks in rows

Golden piggy banks for sale before Chinese New Year in Seoul, Korea. Photo by bebouchard, courtesy of Flickr

EARTHLY BRANCHES & THE ZODIAC

Legend has it that when the Buddha (or the Jade Emperor) invited animals to a New Year’s celebration, only 12 showed up; these 12 animals were each rewarded with a year. Earthly Branches were the original terms used for the years, but animals were later added as mnemonics and categorized as either yin or yang. Ten Celestial Stems pair with the Earthly Branches for a 60-year calendrical cycle. This year is the year of the Earth element and the 12th Zodiac animal, the pig.

Tradition has it that a person’s birth year indicates that he or she will possess the characteristics of the animal in reign during that year. (Just be careful! The year of someone’s Zodiac animal isn’t exactly considered lucky, and wearing red every day for that year is considered a means of protection from evil spirits and bad fortune.)

A 15-DAY FESTIVAL:
DINNERS, RED ENVELOPES & LANTERNS

Unrivaled among Chinese holidays, the New Year begins weeks in advance with families cleaning and hanging paper cutouts in their homes, shopping for fish, meats and other specialty foods, and purchasing new clothing. Businesses pay off debts, gifts are distributed to business associates and everything is completed according to symbolism—for good luck, prosperity and health in the coming year. In Buddhist and Taoist households, home altars and statues are cleaned.

Feng Shui 2019: This year, colors representative of fire—red, orange and pink—are considered lucky, as are colors representative of metal (white and gold). Fire and metal are considered beneficiary to the Earth element, as the Fire element reinforces Earth and the Metal element feeds on the Earth.

On the eve of the New Year, a Reunion Dinner is shared with extended family members. Dumplings, meat dishes, fish and an assortment of hot and cold dishes are considered essential for the table. Traditionally, red envelopes filled with money or chocolate coins are given to children. Following dinner, some families visit a local temple.

Foods and decor of red and gold on table

Photo courtesy of Pxhere

For the next two weeks, feasts will be shared with family and friends, fireworks will fill the skies and parades with dragons and costumes will fill the streets. Friends and relatives frequently bring a Tray of Togetherness to the households they visit, as a token of thanks to the host. Through the New Year festivities, elders are honored and deities are paid homage, with all festivities being wrapped up with the Lantern Festival.

HOMEMADE CHINESE DINNER

If carryout isn’t your idea of an authentic Chinese experience, check out these sites for delicious New Year recipes:

 

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Categories: International Observances

Chinese New Year: Welcome the Year of the Rooster!

Dragon held by people in sunny bustling downtown city

A Lunar New Year celebration in Australia, 2014. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SATURDAY, JANUARY 28: The Chinese Year of the Rooster starts today with a 15-day celebration that circles the globe.

The color red, which is considered auspicious and homophonous with the Chinese word for “prosperous,” dominates décor in nearly every event. The Spring Festival, as it is also termed, ushers in warmer weather and marks the time of great gatherings among family and friends. When the New Year approaches, it is customarily ushered in with a Reunion Dinner that is replete with symbolic foods. For two weeks, visits are made and hosted with family and friends, gifts are exchanged and merriment is par for the course.

This festival also represents the world’s greatest annual human migration. The Reuters news service reports on January 23: “People are joining in the world’s largest human migration and are leaving China’s capital by train, making their way home for family reunions during the Lunar New Year holidays. The 40-day travel frenzy surrounding the week-long Lunar New Year began on January 13, and will last until February 21. During this period, the estimated total volume of people traveling is expected to be almost 3 billion, up 2.2 percent from the previous year, according to China’s Transport Ministry.

CHINESE NEW YEAR:
FROM BUDDHA TO THE ROOSTER

Legend has it that when the Buddha (or the Jade Emperor) invited animals to a New Year’s celebration, only 12 showed up; these 12 animals were each rewarded with a year. Tradition has it that a person’s birth year indicates that he or she will possess the characteristics of the animal in reign during that year. In 2017, the 10th animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac—the rooster—will have supremacy.

A 15-DAY FESTIVAL:
DINNERS, RED ENVELOPES & LANTERNS

Unrivaled among Chinese holidays, the New Year begins weeks in advance with families cleaning and hanging paper cutouts in their homes, shopping for fish, meats and other specialty foods, and purchasing new clothing. Businesses pay off debts, gifts are distributed to business associates and everything is completed according to symbolism—for good luck, prosperity and health in the coming year.  In Buddhist and Taoist households, home altars and statues are cleaned.

On the eve of the New Year, a Reunion Dinner is shared with extended family members. Dumplings, meat dishes, fish and an assortment of hot and cold dishes are considered essential for the table. Traditionally, red envelopes filled with money or chocolate coins are given to children. Following dinner, some families visit a local temple.

For the next two weeks, feasts will be shared with family and friends, fireworks will fill the skies and parades with dragons and costumes will fill the streets. Friends and relatives frequently bring a Tray of Togetherness to the households they visit, as a token of thanks to the host. Through the New Year festivities, elders are honored and deities are paid homage, with all festivities being wrapped up with the Lantern Festival.

HOMEMADE CHINESE DINNER

If carryout isn’t your idea of an authentic Chinese experience, check out these sites for delicious New Year recipes:

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Categories: International Observances

Obon: Japanese communities worldwide begin month-long festival season

People in street clothes dance underneath lanterns with Japanese inscriptions

The Tsukiji Honganji Bon Dance Festival. Photo by Guilhem Vellut, courtesy of Flickr

WEDNESDAY, JULY 13: Crisp cotton kimonos swirl through the streets, colorful trays of cool and tangy sushi await diners and the music of the Bon dance all announce the arrival of Obon—a centuries-old Japanese festival whose activities span an entire month around the globe. From Tokyo to Las Vegas, Buddhist temples in cities around the world host Obon festivals: vendors offer tantalizing Japanese cuisine, temples fill with visitors and an Asian cultural influence is in full force. Originally a Buddhist-Confucian custom, the Japanese have been visiting ancestors’ graves and honoring the spirits of deceased loved ones during Obon for more than 500 years.

Bondancersize? Yes, it’s a real thing! The Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin (headquarters of Hawai’i’s largest Japanese Buddhist denomination) offers weekly classes on Bon dance; Bondancersize, an enormously popular class geared toward seniors, has been reported as bringing in close to 100 students. (Watch a video of the class on YouTube, filmed less than two months ago.)

The traditional story behind Obon begins with a disciple of Buddha. When this disciple used supernatural abilities to look upon his deceased mother, he saw that she was suffering in the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. (Obon is shortened from Ullambana, meaning “hanging upside down” and implying much suffering.) The disciple mourned his mother’s state, and pleaded to Buddha for a way to free her.

In response to his disciple’s request, Buddha suggested one thing: to make offerings to the Buddhist monks who had completed their summer retreat. The disciple did as he had been instructed, and saw his mother freed. In great happiness, the disciple danced with joy—and, thus, the first “Bon dance” was performed. Duly, upon viewing his mother, the disciple had come to a full realization of the many sacrifices his mother had made for him, and he was exceptionally grateful. Even today, the deeper roots of Obon lie in paying respects to ancestors—thus easing their suffering—and expressing joy for the sacrifices that loved ones have made.

Girl smiles while drumming on large Taiko drum

Taiko drumming is an integral part of many Obon festivals. Above, a girl participates in San Francisco’s Obon festival. Photo by Mark, courtesy of Flickr

Did you know? When the ancient Japanese lunar calendar was changed to the Gregorian calendar, the date of Obon spread out: “Shichigatsu Bon” became the modern observance, marked in Tokyo and eastern Japan in mid-July; “Hachigatsu Bon,” based on the lunar calendar, is celebrated in mid-August. “Old Bon” is observed annually on the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar.

BON DANCES,
TEA CEREMONIES
& FIREWORKS

Whether in Japan, Korea, Argentina or a community of Hawai’i, Obon festivals often span several days and include public Bon dances, tea ceremonies, fireworks and carnivals. Festivities of Obon resonate through Brazil—home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan—as well as in many regions of the United States and Canada. In Hawaii, festivities span an even longer period than they do in Japan: Bon festivals are held June through September, from the Garden Island to the Big Island.

On a more personal level, Obon means that families take time to freshly decorate household altars and reunite with family members at ancestral gravesites. Most every Bon festival ends with Toro Nagashi, or the floating of paper lanterns. At the culmination, hundreds and thousands of paper lanterns, illuminated by interior candles, can be seen floating down rivers and streams. The belief is that ancestors’ spirits are symbolically returned to the world of the dead.

RECIPES, PERSPECTIVES & A PAPER LANTERN DIY

Cooking up some traditional Japanese Obon cuisine in your kitchen? Check out the recipes at JapaneseFood.about.com.

How does the Japanese Obon differ from the American Obon? This writer gives an inside perspective.

Thinking of crafting a paper lantern? Find simple-to-follow instructions for a DIY lantern, here.

 

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Categories: BuddhistFaiths of East Asia

Bodhi Day, Rohatsu: Buddhists embrace Buddha’s enlightenment

“How marvelous, I, the great earth, and all beings are naturally and simultaneously awakened.”
Buddha, upon seeing the first morning star during enlightenment

Blurred view of multicolored lights lit in the dark

Many Buddhist families string multicolored lights or burn candles for Bodhi Day. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 8: It’s the season of light for several world religions—Nativity/Advent for Christians, Hanukkah for Jews, Yule for Pagans—and today, Mahayana Buddhists join the festivities by celebrating Buddha’s enlightenment on Bodhi Day (Rohatsu, in Zen Buddhism).

For some Buddhists, Bodhi spans the entire month; in Japanese Zen monasteries, Rohatsu incorporates a week-long sesshin, or meditation retreat, during which participants spend all waking time in intense meditation. For most lay Buddhists, however, Bodhi Day is spent contemplating the Dharma, dining on tea and cake and chanting Buddhist sutras. Families with children may string colored lights or bake cookies in the shape of the Bodhi tree’s leaf, celebrating their own traditions in the midst of the holiday season. (Find more ideas at Family Dharma.)

Note: Theravada Buddhist commemorate Buddha’s enlightenment on Vesak, a holiday that collectively celebrates Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and passing into Nirvana.

The historical Buddha was born Siddhartha Guatauma in approximately the 6th century BCE (calculations vary by sect. Wikipedia has details). Born into a noble family, Siddhartha left wealth and luxury in his late 20s to seek the answer to the question: What is the root of suffering? Once he had seen the suffering of the commoners in his community, Siddhartha became determined to figure out why. He would go on to spend years in ascetic practice, retreating to the forests of India and Nepal for deep meditation. (Gain clarity in celebrating Bodhi Day in the 21st century in this article from the Huffington Post.)

Did you know? According to 2012 polls, approximately 14 percent of Asian Americans are Buddhist.

The details leading up to Siddhartha’s enlightenment beneath the Bodhi tree vary by tradition: some believe that he made a vow to find the root of suffering, while others refer to temptations made by the god Mara (literally, Destroyer). Yet within the pages of the Pali Canon is a collection of discourses written by Buddha, describing the night of his enlightenment as occurring in three stages. (Get Buddhism fast facts at CNN.) During the first watch of the night, Siddhartha discovered the cycle of rebirth; in the second, he became aware of the Law of Karma; in the third, he understood the Four Noble Truths, and finally reached Nirvana. Upon enlightenment—at age 35—Siddhartha became a Buddha: “Awakened One,” or “Enlightened One.”

IN THE NEWS:
OLDEST BUDDHIST SHRINE UNCOVERED IN NEPAL

Archaeologists in Nepal recently discovered traces of a wooden structure beneath the Mayadevi temple in Lumbini—a structure believed to be the world’s oldest Buddhist shrine. (The Guardian reported.) Most intriguing to Buddhists is the fact that the structure has been scientifically dated to approximately the 6th century BCE—meaning that it could have been in existence when the historical Buddha was born at the temple site.

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Categories: Buddhist