Lunar New Year, the Year of the Dog (Wu Xu), is being celebrated by many Asians. Commemorations appear “religious” in nature yet they are considered to be “traditional.” The occasion is for honoring family, friends and ancestors; showing gratitude for what you are “blessed “with; an opportunity to reflect on mistakes and starting afresh.
Members of the family, with the emphasis on married daughters, will make a pilgrimage going home to their parents where they will memorialize ancestors. With families living in other states or countries it is not always possible for the immediate family of sons and daughters to get together on one day. This happened to be the situation at Marlene and James Yu’s home where other relatives and friends (such as I) had the opportunity to engage in an evening of tradition, food, and Mah Jongg.
Having actually taken place at their Rain Forest Foundation location in Queens, the huge room was filled with Marlene Yu’s stunning artwork, which is usually set up for others to display their talent. There is always a piece of sculpture with running water. The walls of artwork lead to the bar and kitchen as well as a patio.
One long table was set up with food and drink being offered to the dead, or as Marlene calls it “bye, bye.” I am introduced to what would be construed as “religious traditions.” There is to be 3 “whole animals.” In this case there was a whole fish with head, tail and fins, a roasted chicken and roasted duck Pork is offered in the way of making sure you have “skin and fat.” Pork belly was on the menu.
Photos of ancestors are placed above the table and lit candles are placed on the table in order to tend to the ceremony of burning incense. At one point the window was open to invite them to partake in the food. We were then each given a lit incense stick and a pause to remember them.
When do we eat? James told me that he was to take two pennies and drop them. If it came up as either two heads or tails, we had to wait a few minutes as the spirits were still eating and or imbibing. A flip of the coins soon gave us the opportunity to fill our bellies as all was brought to another area with added yummies.
Tables were set up each with oranges. I am told that it is important to have a citrus drink. In this case, it appears that someone combined orange marmalade with hot water. I will certainly try this at home. You can always count on the traditional bowls of fruit including Asian pears.
One of the relatives was born in Korea. She made her own kimchi (just a bit too hot for me) and a few other Korean style dishes.
There was one other table devoted to the game of Mah Jongg…but not the Jewish style. I will be writing about how it all came about of having Jewish women not only playing the game, but making sure it was passed down to generations.
I decided to add a tradition by bringing a blooming tea. It was a marigold. Placed in a glass and hot water poured over, the marigold blooms. I saw it as the start of a new year, one of beauty and taste. A group of us partook in a small amount of the tea. Perhaps I will do the same on the eve of Rosh Hashanah.
Somehow, rubber chickens Marilyn and Minerva, managed to show up.